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 [tl
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international
FALL 1992
Contemporary writing from Canada and around the world $4.50 (plus G.S.T.)  "VI
JvAJ international  JWL
international
Editor
Murray Logan
Executive Editor
Patricia Gabin
Fiction Editor
Zsuzsi Gartner
Poetry Editor
Shannon Stewart
Advisory Editor
Keith Maillard
Editorial Board
Meredith Bain Woodward
Denise Beck
Jodie Blaney
Louise Broadly
Tania Campbell
Rita Davies
Elizabeth Drumwright
Peter Eastwood
Anne Fleming
Linda Funk
Renee Gigliotti
Mark Hill
Bonnie Hoeflicher
Angela Lavery
Shelley MacDonald
Sophia Malczewska
Anna Nobile
Greg Nyte
Chris Patton
Shirley Roburn
Kris Rothstein
Eileen Walls PRISM international, a magazine of contemporary writing, is published four times per year
by the Department of Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver,
B.C. V6T 1Z1. Microfilm editions are available from University Microfilms Inc., Ann Arbor,
Michigan, and reprints from the Kraus Reprint Corporation, New York, N.Y.
Contents Copyright © 1992 PRISM international for the authors.
Cover photograph by Robert G. Earnest
One-year individual subscriptions $16.00, two-year subscriptions $24.00, library and institution subscriptions $22.00, two-year subscriptions $36.00, sample copy $5.00. Canadians
add 7% G.S.T.
All manuscripts should be sent to the Editors at the above address. Manuscripts must be
accompanied by a self-addressed envelope with Canadian stamps or International Reply
Coupons. Manuscripts with insufficient postage will be held for six months and then discarded. The Advisory Editor is responsible for the magazine's overall mandate including
continuity, quality, and budgetary obligations.
Payment to contributors is $20.00 per page plus a one-year subscription. PRISM international purchases First North American Serial Rights only.
Our gratitude to the Canada Council, Dean Patricia Marchak, and the Dean of Arts' Office at
the University of British Columbia.
We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Government of British Columbia,
through the Ministry of Tourism and Ministry Responsible for Culture.
Publications Mail Registration No. 5496. October 1992 Contents
Vol. 31, No. 1 Fall, 1992
Anne Dandurand
translated by Luise von Flotow
Gayle J. Detweiler
Janice Levy
Robert Mullen
Steve Vinsonhaler
Jaime Wallace
Mark Cochrane
Joseph Hutchison
Cellan Jay
Sue MacLeod
Dacia Maraini
translated by Genni Gunn
Gig Marks
Simon Perchik
Shuji Terayama
translated by Masaya Saito
Daniel Tobin
Alison Touster-Reed
Sadi Ranson
Fiction
A Comma as Shield   52
A Tiny Bildungsroman   7
Feliciano's Wife Wants her
Tooth Back    63
The Girl in the Machine    39
Strangers In Our Naked Skin
Certain Intimacies   23
27
Poetry
Latent    57
Cowboy Jeans   60
An Amusing Anecdote    50
New Year's Eve With Zoe   21
After Klee's "Objects Around
The Fish"   22
Robbers   61
now Julian walks barefoot   36
gentlemen gentlemen gentlemen   38
Brush Piles   72
Sugarbush    73
Though Each Cobblestone   26
Two tanka   25
Charm   51
Mother in a New Orleans Bar Speaks
of Herself   20
Creative Non-fiction
Of Fugues and Fireflies   75
Cover Photograph
Robert G. Earnest PRISM international
wishes to congratulate
Steven Heighton,
who won a National Magazine Award
for his story "Five Paintings of the New Japan,
which appeared in
PRISM international, Vol. 29, No. 3 A Tiny
Bildungsroman
Gayle J. Detweiler
"We shall enjoy it
As for him who finds
fault, may silliness
and sorrow take him!"
—Sappho, translator Mary Barnard
It is the year 1600. During the last half of the century, under the rule
of Philip II, Spain has reached the pinnacle of its worldly success.
Gold is still flowing into Spanish cities from the conquered hubs of the
New World. Yet the end of the sixteenth century finds the English plundering the Spanish possessions of Mexico and South America and defeating the "Invincible Armada." The inquisition is strong; naughty Catholics,
Protestants, and those with a trace of Moorish or Jewish blood are regularly tortured and burned at the stake. Shakespeare is writing Troilus
and Cressida; Hamlet and The Merry Wives of Windsor are playing to
packed audiences. In Germany Kepler has just been appointed astrologer
to Emperor Rudolf II. A group of Dutch opticians is inventing the telescope. Wigs and dress trains become fashionable and, in Germany, many
Badestuben are closed due to the spread of venereal disease. In northwestern Spain in the small Atlantic port of Santa Eugenia, 60 miles north
of the Portuguese border, you, Catalina de Erauzo, an eight-year-old
tomboy, are in your backyard besting your older brother in a friendly
wrestling contest.
You've the advantage; your tiny, wiry frame is strong and supple. You
dupe him with a cross-ankle pickup, turn him over and checkmate him
with a full nelson. He's writhing on the ground, at your mercy. You dig
your knees into the small of his back.
"Forfeit or die!" you demand. "Swear your allegiance to the honourable Lady Queen Isabella."
Your mother shouts from the kitchen window, "No more romance novels for that one. You hear, Miguel?" Miguel, your father, drinking wine and relaxing a few feet from the
match, laughs.
"Ah, my Catalina is Papa's little soldier."
"No, Papa," you look up and disengage one hand to draw an imaginary
sword, "your Spanish conquistador."
Your brother takes advantage of this diversion. He flips over and jumps
up. His mouth close to your ear, he shouts, "Queen Isabella is dead, you
ninny."
"Is not."
He taps you upside the head.
"Stupid."
You lunge for him with a leg dive but he takes a side step and is off and
running.
"Papa!" You go over to your father and place your hand on his knee.
"Is Queen Isabella dead?"
Your father lifts you up and sits you on his lap. You rest your head on
his chest. It is warm from the afternoon sun. He runs his hand through
your tangled head of curly brown hair. As he answers you his chest vibrates and tickles your ear.
"Catalina, we have a new queen now. It was your grandfather, Miguel
de Erauzo II, who served Ferdinand and Isabella. That was under Cor-
tez. Now I, Miguel III, your father, serve this our sovereign state under
Philip III. I helped claim Portugal for Spain and sailed with the Armada
Invencible."
"Por Dios. Ask him about that one Catalina!" your mother yells from
the window.
"So, Catalina, you see," he taps his finger on your bony sternum, "the
conqueror's blood runs thick in your veins."
You've been weaned on this talk of conquests, of the new world, of the
glory and power of Spain. You will be a Spanish conquistador when you
grow up. Yet, even in your childish innocence, you know there is one
thing you will need. At night you pray, kneeling before your bed, hands
clasped tightly and resting on the coverlet, your knuckles whitened,
drained of blood from the spiritual fever of your grip, you petition Peter,
the patron saint of miracles, for a penis.
It is 1607. Spain is about to commence a twelve year truce with Holland. The Bank of Genoa fails after the announcement of the national
bankruptcy of Spain. The Jesuit state of Paraguay is established. Perkins
publishes, posthumously, A Discourse of the Damned Art of Witchecraft.
John Milton is born. A Dutch scientist, apparently not in contact with his
countrymen, reinvents the telescope. The first cheques are used in the Netherlands and the Royal Blackhealth Gold Club in London is founded.
You are still waiting for a penis.
You've run out of patience with the patron Saint Peter. In fact, all the
saints have been less than helpful. You are tall for a girl, thin and muscular with small breasts, no hips to speak of, and a nose that is a bit too
large. You have unruly, curly hair. Your mother says that your one outstanding feature is your dimples which, she thinks, make you feminine.
Your brother has just left to begin his schooling as a soldier. Before he
left you tackled him to the ground, to prove you could, and ripped your
purple dress in the process. He will come back every year or two or
three, like the men from town who swagger into port now, hitch up their
britches and sit at your father's table late into the evening telling tales,
over a few litres of wine, about the wars with England or the gold in the
New World. But you vow that when he returns you will not be impressed
by his exploits, not spellbound by his stories, and not appeased by the
jokes your papa will make. Furthermore, you will advise everyone that
you are bored to distraction by talk of weddings and births and confirmations and balls.
Your only pleasure in this sorry town of Santa Eugenia is to visit your
friend Theresa whose mother runs the town tavern. Theresa is worldly
and keen. You have a crush on her. No, rather you are in love with her.
She teases you and shares the soldiers' stories that she hears as she sits
on a tavern stool washing and wiping glasses. Her news is the real news,
unedited, that which you don't hear at your father's table, about wars and
conquests.
"I'm going into battle some day for Queen Isabella," you brag to her
one day, "to prove myself to be a worthy soldier for this, our sovereign
state of Spain."
You are in the woods behind the tavern where you always meet.
"Queen Isabella is dead," she taunts.
"Is not."
You rush at her but trip to the ground where she straddles your stomach and pins your shoulders with her hands.
"My hero," she mocks, then leans down and kisses you.
"Shut up."
"There is a soldier," she says, "who visits the tavern and he is a
woman; I am sure of it. There are rumors and then there are his eyes,
something about his eyes. I look for breasts but I can't see them. I'm
going to find out."
"How?" you ask. You are jealous.
She leans forward and kisses you again but this time she is not mocking. You are appeased. At home the talk is of arranging a marriage for you. Your parents
parade men in front of you. Then they choose one, an Army captain, Don
Alfonso Serrano. He smiles often, too often, and winks at you. His
breath, when he manoeuvres himself next to you, smells of whisky and
sausage. He whispers that he likes your spunk. You envision him chasing
you, with catcalls of approval, through the kitchen of what will be your
home, the Serrano home, into the gardens, through the gate, into the
hills; it will be a long chase. There are worse things, you tell yourself, but
you would not want to face them either.
Time is running out; you are to meet Theresa soon. It's been almost
three hours since the church tolled the midnight hour. It is not a good
night for shopping. You've been outside the tavern since ten o'clock looking for a size nine, something in mauve and teal, but lack of time is forcing
some fashion risks.
You waylay the next drunk. "Undress!" you instruct him, brandishing
the sword you stole from your father's arsenal.
"Oh, it's Miguel's daughter," he says in response to your demand,
talking as if he has a buddy there, and he probably thinks, drunk as he is,
that he has. You nudge him with the sword and repeat the command.
"Strip!"
He turns his face skyward and folds his hands as if in prayer. "Thank
you, my patron Saint Peter."
He looks at you and laughs.
You kick him behind the right knee; he buckles to the ground and onto
all fours.
"I order you to take off your clothes for the glory of Spain and the honour of Queen Isabella."
"Miguel's daughter has misplaced a few cards of her royal deck." He
laughs. "The queen, my dear child, is.... "
You hit him over the head with the hilt of your sword, drag him into the
woods behind you, and undress him. His clothes are gamey. The pantaloons are a moldy gray and grass-stained at the knees. On closer examination they reveal a beige undercoating. The belt is a simple rope frayed
at the end. You don't look as closely at his square cut black shirt. Better
not to know, you think. His boots are of decent leather but their soles will
probably not last many more miles.
You check to make sure your victim is still slumbering before you undress. Earlier you flattened your breasts to your chest with cotton wrapping. Pendulous they are not, but any movement, any curve, might give
you away. You step gingerly into the pantaloons which, you find, are four
inches too short and so baggy that the belt must be wrapped twice around
your waist. The boots prove to be two inches too long and an inch too
10 wide. The shirt is too broad and its sleeves too short.
When you meet Theresa in her room she looks you over and exclaims,
"Por dios, Catalina. What have you done?!"
"Cut my hair," you instruct her, and hand her the sword.
Before you leave, you kneel in front of her, take her hand in yours,
turn it over and kiss her palm. You drop your tone an octave to practice
your new voice and tell her, "I love you Theresa. I'm going to become
rich in the New World, then I'll come back and get you and we'll be
married."
You stand and embrace her. You walk to the doorway, then turn and
add, "May Queen Isabella look after you and guide my footsteps till we
meet again." Theresa looks at you incredulously; you leave. She yells
after you.
"Catalina! You are crazy. The woman is dead I tell you. D-e-a-d. Ahh,
Catalina, my silly romantic, I.... "
You head south fifty miles to port Vigo where your dowry, which was
to buy you a spot in the life and bed of Don Serrano, will buy passage on a
ship to the New World.
It is 1612. Settlers are planting tobacco in Virginia. The decimal point
was just discovered. El Greco is putting the finishing touches on his
painting, the "Baptism of Christ." The English and the Dutch are fighting
over India. The King James version of the Bible has just gone to press
and The Tempest is number one at the box office. You are twenty years
old and destitute, sitting on a curb in Lima, poorer than when you started
out five years ago on the boat ride to the New World.
The trek took two endless months to land you in Trinidad and left you
with vivid memories of sun poisoning and sea sickness. The crew slept
two, three men to a bunk and you were in constant fear that one of them
would accidently brush against your breasts and it would be end game. At
night, in your bunk, you'd gained strength from your manipulations of the
Queen:
Queen Isabella de Bourbon praying, on her knees—sacrilege, no! lying
in her bed, NO!—standing by her open window looking at a star? Better.
Queen Isabella, praying, standing by her open window, looking at a star,
her delicate fingers entwined, her tiny knuckles white with the pressure of
their sincerity, requesting of her lord the safe passage of, the deliverance of,
the prosperity of, Dona Catalina de Erauzo, the soon-to-be famous Spanish
conquistador.
Then, finally, in Trinidad, with little money and no connections, looking
thirteen years of age, you'd tried to buy on to a decent company. In some
ways you were lucky: you had some breeding, some education, and some
money, unlike certain misfits in Trinidad running from the gallows or the
11 inquisition. Yet you'd had the poor judgement to sign up with an incompetent conquistador who couldn't have located the gold in his molar. You
ended up stranded somewhere on the coast of Peru with no Rand Mc-
Nally and no way to make it back to Lima to hook up with another....
Your reflections are interrupted by a ruckus.
"I said to hell with Ferdinand and Isabella. Imperialist fascist sluts is
what they were. Damn elitists. Colonizing this, colonizing that. Fucked
our country is what they did. To hell with Spain!"
You spring into action: leg dive, ride, full nelson. He's writhing under
you.
"Take it back."
"Will not."
You ride the nelson harder and pinch his lumbar spine with your right
knee.
"Pledge allegiance to Queen Isabella or I'll break your back, you slithy
tove."
"I take it back. Queen Isabella is a princess and Ferdinand a prince.
Swell people they were. Hard working too. Why I remember when...."
You hit him over the head for good measure before standing up. The
man with whom he was arguing congratulates you.
"That was fine work son. Would you like to sign on with my company?
Five gold nuggets an hour. Christian holidays off."
"Two weeks at solstice and a conquistador outfit and you'll have yourself a deal."
It is 1619. The Thirty Years' War is in its second year. Kepler uncovers the third law of planetary motion while Harvey, at Bartholomew's
Hospital in London, discovers the circulation of the blood. Sir Walter Raleigh has just been executed and the Italian Catholic philosopher, Vanini,
burned as a heretic. The first shipload of negro slaves arrives in Virginia.
You are quickly becoming the quintessential conquistador.
In fact they may, someday soon, put your profile on a coin in the
Franklin Mint collection. You are at the close of a second expedition and
are wealthy beyond your visions. Your talents, for swordplay, diplomacy,
and quick thinking, are well-known and in demand. It is possible you will
someday be a captain and lead your own group of men. But now you are
on holiday, headed back to Santa Eugenia. There is business to settle and
a woman awaits you.
You stand on the stern, legs and arms akimbo, as the ship pulls into
port. Your face and forearms are browned and your hair has hints of gold
in it from the summer sun. You weigh no more than when you left but
your 5'7" frame is now more muscular and you are dressed in full and
12 attractive armour. A quality sword hangs by your side and you have on
your purple satin shirt and a gold wiremesh vest. You've sent word ahead
to your parents and Theresa, with a trusted courier, of your arrival. You
are surprised when you do not find them milling about the dock, awaiting
your arrival. You hire a horse and ride into town.
You find the door to your home locked.
Your parents stand side by side and stare at you out of the kitchen window.
"Papa, Mama, let me in; it's your Catalina."
"We don't know you."
"I'm your little conquistador, remember? Papa, please."
"Por Dios, Catalina those clothes. My little girl in pantaloons. You
think the town did not laugh the next day? For months? For years after
you left? What do you suppose the church says about such things, the
neighbors? You want the Inquisition on you, on this house? You are not
our daughter; do you hear Catalina? Go. Go away. We don't know you
anymore."
Inside the town tavern Theresa takes you by the hand like a child and
leads you outside.
"My silly Catalina, still dressed like a boy."
"Aren't I handsome Theresa?"
"Yes."
You reach for her hand and hold it. "You are beautiful Theresa."
"And married Catalina."
"But Theresa, we were engaged."
"Catalina, you are a woman; I am a woman. How can we be engaged?"
"Easy. I love you. It was for you, and the honour of Queen Isabella,
that I endured. Theresa, it was sometimes horrible, horrible... but I
thought always of you and...."
"Catalina," she strokes your cheek and looks you in the eye, "Queen
Isabella is dead."
You look back at her, unflinching.
"Then why did she ask me to give you this?"
You kiss her, gently biting her upper lip, and pull her towards you.
Theresa returns your hug then backs away.
"Catalina, I'm married. I have a life here. Please... go."
You take a kerchief full of gold from your pocket and place it in her
hand.
"Not even for all the gold Catalina. I, we, my husband and I have a
child."
She starts to hand the gold back to you.
13 "Keep it."
You walk away. You stop at five ports on the way to Lima. At each port
you, a handsome, young, rich conquistador, get engaged. The women
you take in your arms are young and beautiful. They hear you promise
them fidelity, gold, and, eventually, a wedding bed, but you know better,
for that part you have not yet figured out.
It is 1623. The Treaty of Montpellier ends the rebellion of the
Huguenots. James I dissolves the English Parliament and Abbas I, the
Shah of Persia, conquers Baghdad. The Dutch massacre the English colonists at Amboyn while Papal troops occupy the Valtelline. Shakespeare's first folio is published. Moliere is born. Tulsi Das, that famous
Hindu poet, dies. "The Rape of the Bucket" is written while Bernini
sculpts "David." You look, are, marvelous.
Couldn't be better. Yes, the world is unfolding as it should. All is for
the best in this best of all possible worlds. Every day in every way you
are getting better and better. You repeat this litany as you lay in your
bedroll, look up at the roof of your tent, your headquarters, and contemplate another day as a cross-dressing Spanish conquistador. You hit the
snooze button.
Queen Isabella bends down to where you lie and begs you rise. "Come,
my tired conquistador." You rise only to your knees, keeping your head
bowed. The queen takes your hand and kisses each browned knuckle. Then
she tilts back your head, her hand on your neck, her lips find their way to
your windburned cheek and your naked neck that you arch, exposed for her.
Your heart, your life, your body you would donate gladly for the royal cause.
"Oh my queen!"
"Captain, yhoa, Captain sir. Don Erauzo!"
Startled, you awake to the questioning eyes of your troop's chef.
"What for the love of God?!!"
"Shall I use up the rest of the salted pork for breakfast?"
"Damn Sebastian, feed them cake for all I care. Leave me to my
dreams." And then, guiltily, "That's a good boy."
Lord, twelve years in South America and you are tired. And lonely.
Dressing as a man, constantly pretending a penis, is fatiguing. As a captain you are afforded more privacy so there is not so much the fear of discovery; it is just that you yourself sometimes forget you are a woman.
You see your breasts maybe once a month. Sometimes, even when you
are alone, you open your fly expecting to pull out the old lizard. Once you
cried and cried when this happened; you thought you were going insane.
Your heart hurts; you need company, a soft hand.
14 You've seen more Indians raped and killed than Moslems burned at the
stake. Your purple shirt is stained, your sword tarnished, and some days
you don't even comb your hair. You are thirty-one years old and some
mornings you wish you'd married Don Alfonso Serrano and allowed him
to chase you around his orchards. Some days you'd give your right tit, as
much good as it does you swaddled in layers of cotton, to live a normal
life: married with children in Madrid, tickets to the bullfights once a year,
catch an inquisition with the children occasionally. You will retire after
this commission.
As it stands you are disenchanted with the church, your fellow countrymen, Spain, and even—well no, not yet, Queen Isabella still warms a
cockle or two of your heart. Your faith in the concept of Iberian supremacy is tottering; you are beginning to empathize with the Indians. This is
not an asset in the conquering lifestyle.
The smell of the cook's coffee gets you vertical—his secret is a pinch of
salt. You are camped in the foothills of the Cordillera Azul in the province
of Huanuco, 120 miles due east of one of the tallest peaks, Huascaran in
the central Andes. At this altitude there are plenty of evergreen trees yet
and the temperature is a comfortable fifty degrees during the day, though
it frequently drops below freezing at night. You are a few miles outside
the village of Tingo Maria; today you and your men will be paying its residents, Quechua Indians whose ancestors founded the Inca empire, an unannounced visit.
You'll camp outside the village for a number of weeks, maybe a couple
of months. Your job is threefold: subdue the natives and take their valuables, while controlling your troops. On the first point, little resistance is
expected. Even the more remote Indian villages, 80 years since the advent of Pizarro, understand only too clearly the hierarchy of power. The
Indians will appease you and your men with gems and gold; they'll even
transfer their allegiance to the Catholic triumvirate, which makes the
troop priest who is, of course, outside of your jurisdiction, happy.
However, troop management, keeping the boys in line, is becoming increasingly difficult. Everyone has a private agenda: there are those
whose main goal is to convert the heathens to the Catholic faith and bash
wooden idols, those who will be looking to illegally start their own private
gold and gem cache—in essence rob from the troop and the Catholic
church, those looking for slaves, and those who simply want to get laid.
You are beginning to sympathize with the latter group.
It is a few weeks later. Abbas I reviews his troop positioning in Baghdad. Clean up measures are in full swing at Amboyn. Moliere is fattening
up nicely at his mother's breast. "The Rape of the Bucket" is searching
15 for a publisher. The homosexuals in Italy canonize "David." The folks in
Tingo Maria are being particularly accommodating; you, personally, are
being pursued by a transvestite.
He is quite cute: rather petite, about 5'3" and always dressed smartly
in a handwoven huipil blouse and a colourful light cotton skirt. A few days
ago you interceded on his behalf and saved him from a buggering. Since
then he's been shadowing you. When you turn to confront him he grabs
your hand and pumps it vigorously to show his thanks.
Today he followed you, posing and begging for a kiss. Catching you off
guard he managed to grab you in a bear hug. As he backed off from the
embrace his eyes reflected your secret and he grinned to beat the band.
"What are you smiling at? Might think you saw the queen or something."
He seemed to recognize the word and shook his head up and down like
someone who had just learned the international symbol for the word yes.
"Ha! So you think the queen is still alive?"
He continued shaking his head, yes.
"Well I've news for you, Queen Isabella, my sorry sod, is dead."
This seemed to discourage him and he left.
"And good riddance too!" you yelled after him.
It is evening; another lonely evening sitting by the campfire. You're almost glad to see the cute little transvestite approaching. He walks on the
arm of a large villager with regal bearing. Perhaps they are lovers, you
think, and brace yourself for a quarrel; his friend must be close to seven
foot tall.
You position your right hand on the hilt of your sword. However, on
closer inspection this large person is a woman. When she greets you her
handsome face breaks into a smile. You notice something familiar in the
eyes, a kinship, and were it not for her skirt and substantial bosom staring you in the eyes you'd swear she was a cross-dressing cousin.
You stand there smiling at your company and shuffling your feet. Your
little friend in the skirt slaps you on the back and yells queen! queen!
while he points at the woman. You grab him by the scruff of the neck and
stifle him with a palm over his mouth as you glance anxiously about camp.
Still alone. Polite but firm you encourage them to leave but as fast as
you're forming international hand symbols for "go" they're double teaming you with symbols for "come" so you relent and follow them to their
adobe abode. You sit on a llama rug and accept the corn whiskey they
offer.
They talk between themselves, gesturing and pointing at you, debating, you assume, certain salient points concerning your heritage, moral
16 character, and measurements. You understand nothing but do gather that
the woman's name is Chata. You are new at this socializing and are about
to deduce it is no fun at all when the corn whiskey kicks in. Good, so
you'll loiter a bit, give your men time to misbehave and sully your own
reputation also.
After about an hour, the little man curtseys and prepares to leave. You
stand up to go with him but he points to the woman and with a suggestive
snicker motions for you to stay. Your feet are a little unsteady so you
don't press the issue; you sit down. Chata comes to sit next to you and
sings what sounds like a hymn in a low and throaty register; the corn
whiskey in your veins swells with the cadence. You hum along. She
moves her arm around you and holds you against her side. Your cheek
lies against her warm, substantial breast. You kiss the mound of her
breast through her soft leather shirt and pass out.
When you come to she is throwing wood on the fire. She then returns
to sit next to you, lifts you onto her lap and coddles you like a child. She
leans her head down to whisper into your ear.
"The queen," she says with difficulty in broken Spanish, "is alive."
Yes, you nod, wanting to be agreeable, but you are scared and start
shivering. She stands up, with you still in her arms, and moves closer to
the fire. She sits down two feet from the fire and rearranges you on her
lap. Pulling you into her bosom she rocks. Her scent is wonderful—deep
and rich and mountainous; you breathe it in. Her nipple is pressing into
your cheek. Oh, to just turn and suck, but you don't. She stares at the
fire and you sneak glances at her face which is soaking up the flames.
She looks down and you quickly shut your eyes, pretending to be asleep. She unbuckles your belt and removes your sword, then starts unbuttoning your shirt. Breathe, you remind yourself. She reaches inside
your silk shirt and her hands play over the cotton strips that wrap your
breasts tight to your chest. She does not bother to unwrap, but rather
rips, the cotton. Your breasts, freed for the first time in years, feel the
heat of the fire. She bends down and sucks your nipple, and then most of
your breast, into her mouth. Then she takes your pink nipple and rolls it
between her calloused brown fingertips. Something stirs. Your hips lift
involuntarily and her hand reaches to greet them.
A few minutes later, she stands and lifts you up by your armpits. Your
pantaloons, without the aid of your belt, easily slide off your skinny
frame. She lays you down and inspects your nakedness. You are quite
wet. She comments upon this in her native tongue. She pushes her finger, two fingers, inside you. You gasp in pain and excitement. Her other
hand slides under you and holding your buttocks she pulls you up to meet
her mouth. Her tongue talks, her eyes plead with you—this beautiful
17 woman likes you, likes your body. Your groin is lifting, saluting her effort.
South America sings. You are no longer a virgin.
Then you are on your knees, by her side. You kiss her palm, which is
light brown, and then, like a greedy puppy, find her nipple without the
benefit of sight. You put her skirt over your head and suckle between her
legs. You climb back up to her bosom, your face wet.
"Will you marry me?" you ask her. You promise her love, fidelity,
property in the West Indies, a home.
Chata hugs you tight. Finding a Spanish voice she whispers in your ear,
"Meet me, my lovely Catalina, tonight at the river with two fine horses
and plenty of gold. I'll be there with bells on."
It is 1629. The Peace of Susa ends the war between England and
France. The Peace of Alais ends the Huguenot revolt. The Truce of Alt-
mark is signed between Sweden and Poland. The Congregation of the
English Ladies is founded in Munich. Rubens is inspired to paint the
"Blessings of Peace." Pirates of all nationalities, called "buccaneers,"
settle in Tortuga off the northwest coast of Hispaniola. Peru is still
searching for a certain deranged Spanish conquistador who, travelling
with a large Indian campanion on a white horse, returned hundreds of
gold nuggets and precious gems to Indian villages along with European
delicacies—shoe laces, bubble gum, and blue jeans. His spree was financed by robbing Spanish army posts throughout South America.
You are a retired conquistador living, with your beautiful wife Chata, in
a small hacienda a few miles outside the small Spanish port town of
Puebla del Caraminal. At daybreak you roll over and give her a hug, your
skinny arms straining to cover her impressive girth. In the morning, you
feed each other strawberries dipped in sugar and warm, golden, puffy
pastries spread with butter, whilst the nanny dresses the many Indian
orphans you've rescued from Peru.
After breakfast, after the children's faces have been cleaned, by their
nannies, of succulent, fresh jam, you go for your morning constitutional.
The children swarm about you, running ahead, falling behind. They bring
you presents of fresh picked flowers, an orange salamander; they show
you a leaf, a pink rock. You touch a soft brown cheek here, kiss a warm
forehead there, tousle another's black curls, and take the youngest
child's soft chubby pink palm in your own—Isabella you call her.
You smile at your lovely wife and she at you. You kiss her; she kisses
back. The children giggle.
The children run to the small river that meanders through your property and call "Mommy! Mama!" from the bank. "What?" you answer in
unison. You sit on the bank and when it becomes hot you push off your
18 shoes and slip your feet into the cool water where the current buoys
them and slips between your toes. Some of the children strip and jump in
the water. They splash each other; the older ones run races between the
banks. You hold your lover's hand, anticipating the afternoon nap.
Chata's parents, who live with you, are just now preparing a box
lunch—cheese, fresh breads and fruits, red wine, homemade candy. You
eat on the banks of the river before returning to home by the paths
through your wooded acreage.
In your backyard, the sun warming you, you'll teach the children their
letters then read them a story. They'll fall asleep in the soft grass and
you'll cover them with light colourful cotton blankets. From a grassy knoll
you'll watch your sleeping children, patches of colour breathing softly,
then lay back yourselves. Chata will lay her head on your stomach; you'll
run your fingers through her hair and watch the clouds progress across
the blue sky. The family will eat together this evening as it is Isabella's
third birthday.
Your old friend Theresa will be coming with her husband and children.
Your family, your brother, mother, and father, will come also. Your father will hug you close and say, "Ah, Catalina, my little conquistador, so
good to see you again, child."
You will lead your guests to swings overlooking your gardens and fill
their cups with red wine.
You and your brother will Indian wrestle. He is finally getting quite
good and you think you'll let him win tonight.
Afterwards, after the sweet loneliness descends upon you of a home
recently emptied of joyous guests and children gone to bed, you will lay
your sweetheart, your lover, your wife, down. You will lay her down until
the cool breeze from the open window makes her gently shiver as she
lifts her hips, welcoming you home.
19 Alison Touster-Reed
Mother in a New Orleans
Bar Speaks of Herself
She said she was a fainty tourist, walking
The beach in Death in Venice. She had waited
Her whole life for this furtive, jaded
Part of her to amble coolly, stalking
Aschenbach. All the wives have berated
The weather, taken their men to Marseille, where
Transparency still lingers. But just to fall,
She said, for the stare, the glazed kiss, would make
Her years older and docile. And by a tall
Lemony beach umbrella he is talking,
Staring at some boy who is bare to the waist
Beyond the reef. She sees the graying pall
Of his eyes and his totter, and an ache
Comes over her, a sudden gripe at the empty
Hotel with no service, the peremptory
Beach hotter than the reef and the air,
The one man left to his souvenirs.
She had wanted true love, but to taste
A maze of flesh in a gondola by the piers.
Had she told fortunes in "Araby," she
Said, she could have foretold this bathos, bare
Foreign shore. The exotic light and heartbreak
At the Riviera suddenly enthrall
Her; the bazaar of sensuous fears
Calls her, and she starts the whole rotten mile
Down the beach, beyond the turn, in style.
20 Cellan Jay
two poems
New Year's Eve With Zoe
It is midnight, the beginning
of the last decade
of the millenium.
As I raise my glass to you
a thousand skaters dazed with cold
blow on their fingers;
people twenty floors below
release floating coloured things
into the dark sky.
Have you ever stepped from your bed, Zoe,
still wrapped in sleep, and waded into
the room's darkness, not knowing,
not knowing a thing?
Oh, and to return then, to be held aloft
so softly, your face turning and turning
in darkness, lovely as some skater
pirouetting on your pillow...
I think we are all angels in this
fallen place, especially you
under your shawls,
your tobacco-shredded voice rustling
like a hand in the dark
among important papers.
21 After Klee's "Objects
Around the Fish"
The fish is your brain
feigning sleep on a plate,
its blue glittery scales.
Utensils of dreams swim about.
Eleven a.m.: they will float
up, appear for a moment
eddying in your coffee cup.
You will have time to wonder
where are my shoes am I
naked then what am I
22 Certain Intimacies
Jaime Wallace
i
//"][" love you has come to mean a certain thing to me," you explain
almost apologetically, trying not to ask too much of her with
your eyes. There are things you say aloud, things you try not to
say aloud and always things you hope your eyes do not betray. "I heard
this certain thing when the words flew from your mouth."
So you find yourself sitting in a civilized 1989 scene at a cafe in the city
drinking coffee, toying with a chef's salad and asking her if she has picked
out the wallpaper for their new kitchen and you pretend that it was never
to be a place the two of you might have stood kissing, leaning ever so
gently against the refrigerator. Here you sit commending yourself for the
sophisticated nature of this civility, this sharing of an afternoon and a cup
of coffee with a sturdy seemingly enormous table between the two of
you. Once or twice you feel certain that you have touched her leg with
your leg and though you are not quite certain whether it is her leg or the
leg of this so sturdy table, still your stomach quivers as you quickly retract. Your stomach does not recognize the woodenness of this table that
stands between you and her, between her legs and your legs.
"I love you has come to mean a certain thing to me," you say again
hoping to get further this time, hoping still that your eyes do not betray
the intimacies of what these certain things are, that it is enough just to
say "certain things." You are trying to tell her that you are not blaming
her for being the one to first say the word goodbye. You want to tell this
woman who sits across the table from you that this notion that we are all
separate people has never come easily to you, that as a child, the sight of
your mother's blood made you cry and that even just last year when your
best friend was hospitalized to have a lump removed from under her arm,
you found yourself in your own doctor's office complaining of a pins and
needles sensation under your own left arm. You want to take responsibility for your end in this goodbye, but the distance at this particular moment, in this smoky cafe, between what you had wanted of this love and
what you have received from this love stretches the mile of the enormous
table between you and her, between her legs and your legs.
"And this certain thing," you say tasting the saltiness of the word
23 goodbye, "is what I thought I heard you say one night, one night weeks
ago. I heard things in parentheses, things about a future."
"Well no," she says and it is not even a wounding and certain of itself
N-O, but "well" pause "no" and in her voice for the first time you sense
that even she might have liked to have meant all those things in parentheses. This recognition links the two of you for a moment, and as your compassion for her increases, the particular thing "I love you" once meant to
you, grows dimmer in your memory. It grows dimmer still as the afternoon wears on and the waiter has arrived for the twentieth time this afternoon to refill your cup of coffee. You manage a smile, you thank him,
you commend him for reading your mind and after he is gone, the conversation turns to things one can hold in one's hand: books, computer paper,
subway tokens, and you discuss these things as two people who once
held one another close and tight in white sheets but who no longer so
much as let their legs touch under the table sometimes discuss the
weather.
"It's been a mild winter," she comments, and you agree as you put on
the black leather jacket you wear to let everyone know that you are not
haunted by the certain thing "I love you" once meant to you.
You part with a hug at the corner of 72nd and Broadway. You commend yourself the whole car ride up the Hutch for the acceptance you
have found over the years, the way you let go of her embrace just seconds before she let go of yours. You commend yourself for the expectations you have abandoned but somehow just knowing the design of the
wallpaper that will cover their new kitchen causes it to dance before the
windshield and makes it impossible not to wonder what it might have
been like to kiss her leaning ever so gently against the refrigerator. This
kiss, the dancing flowers, and her breath upon your breath makes you
dizzy and you can't help but wonder what particular piece of "I love you"
is sacrificed with every conversation you have with anyone you love
about the weather. You cannot shake this feeling that some piece of your
heart is lost every time you smile your smile etched in pain and utter the
words "I understand" in the face of the incomprehensible, like the light
years between the summers of your childhood and the three months that
run through your life like a fire each adult year that you live, like the paradox of the words good and bye, how strangely they look next to one another on the page and the miles between the story you set out to tell and
the story you've told.
24 Shuji Terayama
two tanka translated from the Japanese by Masaya Saito
An onion I've planted
in the woman lodger's
buttock, and so
long is my
rainy season
With her I lived, until
the stain
on the wall grew
into a new China, and left her
on a rainy night.
25 Simon Perchik
Though Each Cobblestone
Though each cobblestone waits till I kneel
before telling me how it suffered
how its first cry was for mountainside
to be comforted again
and under your breasts one rib
is always older than the others
closer to moonlight and little by little
—it takes more and more darkness
but after awhile I can lift a stone
no longer stone—I begin
to breathe for you
the way a child's balloon spreads out
with joy and my lips
drifting across your shoulders
wider and wider
till nothing heals without leaving behind
a memorial arch—I find you
as if the laces bending over one shoe
had left a scar
and I strap its knot to paving stones
—with just my knee
I follow the wound
that curves the Earth, covers it
—I kneel for the rising
older than step by unfinished step
and you somewhere, everywhere
under their loosening hold.
26 Strangers In Our
Naked Skin
Steve Vinsonhaler
THE NOCTURNAL HOUSE
We meet at the zoo. In the Nocturnal House creatures of the
night creep toward us: moles, porcupines and crawly things.
Bats hang from the ceiling like bunches of black bananas, huddled in private conversation. Animal instinct dominates the dark. They're
looking at us, she says. They're just animals, I say. No, those people in the
corner, they're watching. My hands are cupped like a bra around her
breasts. Wait, she says, / can't do this right now. Surrounded by animals
with fur, tails and wings, I realize it's impossible to be just friends. We
cling to each other because physical love is our last refuge. The voyeurs
leave the exhibit—for a moment daylight exposes our intentions: my hand
between her thighs, her scent strong as menstrual blood. We think our
tracks are covered as we burrow in the dark. Animal eyes glow yellow
and green like reflectors.
INHERITANCE
In my family illicit affairs are hereditary.
My great-grandfather was a teacher-philosopher-carpenter-boxer. At
one time, he was the oldest active professor in Kansas. He taught literature and English and was proficient in German, Greek and Latin. His
students recalled how he illustrated his academic lectures with boxing
gestures. He taught for two years in Montana in the late 1800's and once
shook hands with Buffalo Bill as he was boarding a train for the east.
What his obituary doesn't say is expressed in letters: My greatgrandfather was pursued by a female student, Agnes. Her letters are
affectionately addressed to him, but there is no record of his response. It
is very clear that he was tutoring Agnes—that much is documented. Aca-
27 demically speaking, her grades improved. But the roses that are dried
between the pages of her letters were grown by my great-grandmother.
RELIGION
My father was middle-aged when his inner voice visited him like an
omen. He is not a religious man and he did not interpret this message as a
sign from God—he did not try to find himself—instead, he turned to a
woman to save him.
After he confessed to my mother, the two of them fabricated a marriage for four more years before they were both brave enough to end it.
They said the four years were for us, my brother and me. Holding the
family together.
When I asked him why it happened, ten years later he said: People
change. Grow apart. That's when I realized my father was shrinking at an
alarming rate. I watch him live his life without enthusiasm, anaesthetized
with alcohol, consumed. Does he remember why he wanted her? Did it
feel real as adrenalin to pursue her? His heart beating with deceit.
I am an administrative assistant and she is my supervisor. I type her
correspondence, take messages and minutes. We pass secret notes like
in grade school: Who do you love? I imagine being married to her. She fills
my emotional void with reassurance. And I wonder if that's how missionaries feel talking about God's love. We want to be filled up. But people
are not God and God can disappoint you.
GENEALOGY
My grandfather was faithful to his work. To say he was responsible for
my grandmother's mental breakdown might be an exaggeration. He was
an engineer. A short bald man with a bad temper; a record-keeper; he
saved pictures, letters, receipts. When he retired from government service he researched his past. He kept the genealogy charts rolled up in
cardboard tubes. His work seemed secretive and important to me. When
he died, I realized his research was sporadic, his record-keeping disjointed. When I unrolled his charts I expected to find clues, but the family
tree had gaps in time like gnarled knots of space.
History is subjective. I remember how he twisted my ear when I disobeyed him. And I remember when he grabbed my grandmother by the
28 ankles and dragged her down the hall when she threatened suicide. And I
remember seeing my grandfather in bed with the woman that lived across
the street. I was mowing her lawn in the backyard and I watched him
climb her body like he was looking for something that was difficult to find.
But I'm sure he doesn't quite remember it that way.
PROMISES
A woman waters her petunias as we make love in the bushes not more
than ten feet away. I ruin a pair of slacks, the knees soiled like when I
was a kid and I played in the mud on the way home from school. She has
to pee so bad she says she can't concentrate on anything except the hard
ground and a stump pressing into her lower back. We could get arrested
for this, we agree. We dare people to discover us because danger is what
we thrive on when we've already gone this far.
Sometimes after work we sit in her car overlooking the lake, drinking
wine, reclining the bucket seat on the passenger-side to accommodate intercourse. But afterwards it's always the same: retrieving our clothes,
promises.
And when the sex becomes as routine as taking off your socks and
shoes we continue to prostitute our bodies to escape the end of our affair.
It's already starting to hurt, a dull ache that creeps into the muscles like
lactic acid during exercise. But it gets worse. There are times when the
telephone doesn't ring when it's supposed to, when notes are passed like
urgent memos and misunderstood, when your heart is like a hot iron that
scorches your chest from the inside out.
AN IMAGINARY FATHER
A police officer telephoned my mother to inform her that my father had
left the scene of an accident. He had given his name and number and then
got in his truck and drove away with a woman. The woman was a secretary who worked in his building. My father had taken her to lunch.
I tried to imagine my father at work because visiting his office was
taboo. An orderly man shuffling papers into neat stacks on his grey metal
desk like primeval rock formations: pyramids of contracts, business letters and memos. Wiry black hair sprouts from his knuckles. He produces
exact blocked letters with the mechanical pencil on yellow note pads. He
had entertained aspirations of being an engineer, like my grandfather, but
29 these plans collapsed like a faulty suspension bridge when he failed the
necessary mathematics courses.
My father grew up an only child. I've played with the same toy soldiers
and cannons he did as a boy. They are made of metal, heavy as rocks,
painted green.
Grandfather sat in his chair reading, ignoring us, which made my father
furious. And then, just when my father had had about enough of this
weekly visit and this stubborn old man and he was ready to leave, my
grandfather jumped out of his chair and wanted to talk. But it's too late,
we're in the car, my father's door slammed shut, starting to drive away.
And there was my grandfather, sixty-year-old man in slippers running
down the street, one hand on the door handle, screaming at my father
about some important business. I wanted my father to stop, but he just
stared straight ahead until my grandfather tired and gave up the chase.
SEX
My father feared for my sexuality when I wasn't dating girls in high
school. He teased me in front of my brother—said he thought I might be
queer. But we never talked about sex directly; he never taught me how to
be with a woman. I was still a virgin when he confessed to my mother
that he didn't love her anymore. Did he find this new woman more sexually attractive than my mother, I wondered?
For four years my father came and went like a transient. Part of me
wanted him to stay, he was my father, but when I understood where he
was going I despised him. I thought my parents weak—blamed them for
being indecisive. My father no longer touched my mother in front of us.
And some nights, when he said he was working late, I'd hear her in the
bathroom throwing up.
I dreamed I killed him. He was a vampire and I pounded a stake into his
heart. But the next morning he awakened from the dead, lips red as
Cherry Kool-Aid. His hair slicked back black with shoe polish. Dime store
dentures sharpened his bite. He drank our blood: flew away.
SECRETS
People reveal the dark side of their relationship when it's over. They
tell secrets. It's a way of healing, letting go. And sometimes: hating. My
30 mother told me how my father modeled her underwear when they were
first married. She told me how he turned his back to her in bed when
what she needed was to be held. And when he told her about the other
woman, she pretended not to hear.
After the divorce, I was my mother's confidant. She said she didn't
want me to hate my father for what he did. But it's never that easy. Is it,
Father?
I called him on the phone, told him I knew his secrets. He denied my
accusations with silence. And then I yelled FUCK YOU into the receiver
and threw the phone on the floor. About twenty minutes later he was
knocking on the front door. I watched him walk around the house, looking
in the windows as I ducked behind the couch.
He didn't go away, and I finally let him in. He tried to explain things.
But it was too late for that. / hate you, I cried, like I meant it. He stopped
talking and looked down at the floor. I wanted to hurt him. But all he said
was: I'm sorry about that. And I felt ashamed.
MEASURING UP
My father is not an easy man to please. I've tried. Sometimes I want
him to formally evaluate me because being his son feels like a job I'm not
qualified for. I know that he loves me—he's my father. But how does he
really feel about me? It wasn't until later that I realized I was being punished for his own failures; he wanted me to be what he couldn't be, but he
didn't know how to show me.
Once, after he'd been drinking, he followed me upstairs to my bedroom, cornered me, and attempted to hug me, tell me he loved me. I was
in college and the whole thing was awkward as a first kiss. I felt abused.
And I'm sure he forgot all about his spontaneous display of affection in the
morning.
My grandfather didn't acknowledge my father as a man and that's the
way it was to the end. We were driving away—my father had just told my
grandfather about the divorce. As usual, he ignored us. But there he
was, running after us, determined to say the last word: You'll never be
happy again, he cursed my father. I looked straight ahead and urged my
father to go faster. We sped away like two fugitives.
31 LIES
In the black and white pictures my male relatives have bushy eyebrows
and elephant ears. After my parents were divorced I didn't want to look
like my father. I was afraid that if I resembled him physically I would turn
out rotten just like him. I didn't trust myself to be different.
I meet a woman at work. She doesn't want to believe me when I tell
her that I have been depressed and suicidal; that I have spent a year in
therapy trying to forgive my father and myself. I am not sure how to evaluate this. Is she denying a part of me or is she accepting me for who I
appear to be?
The roles are reversed but the fact that I'm engaged in an office affair
doesn't escape my attention. She takes an interest in my career. She encourages me to pursue a promotion. We have our work, our youth and
our creativity in common. She says: If the circumstances were different I
could imagine being with you. If only... If only she wasn't married. But
married women don't always say no.
I think she thought that no was the right answer, but she didn't say it
with conviction. I don't blame her. She had been married a year and she
was scared. There were times when she feared communicating her need
to her spouse; she feared what she might do if he didn't listen.
Going out to lunch, talking, spending time—it adds up to something.
And before I know it I am missing her when I am away from work. I become jealous of her private life. And then I begin to work late so that I can
be with her. I tell myself it's about business, deadlines. I'm almost sure
that someone in the office knows because lies are like quicksand. And I
wish they will confront me because I'm sinking out of control. But you die
in slow motion, like the people in movies—bodies descending to the earth
like parachutes, entangled.
It's different for the married ones, isn't it Father? They've said their
vows. Made promises. They've got history on their side. And that's
something to hold on to.
I want her to leave her husband. We sit huddled on the floor crying.
She asks me to understand her situation. But that isn't good enough because I'm tired of feeling powerless. I decide she's never going to leave
him. And I seal myself up like an envelope. And when she sees what is
happening, she's afraid, because she's stuck in the middle, her heart cut
in two: My love turned inward like a bed of nails.
When did it stop? she asks.
How do you tell someone you don't love them anymore, Father? Tell
me that?
32 People change, I tell her. But it's not that simple.
She tells me she's leaving her husband. She's told him about us. But
I'm afraid my conscience is going to devour me, and I'm going to shrink
up inside just like my father if I don't say: It's over.
WANTING
When it was over I told my father about my affair with a married
woman. I was still depressed about it and I think I wanted him to reassure
me. We were walking in the park and I could feel his discomfort like a
rock in my shoe. But I thought he would understand because we had this
thing in common. I told him it was wrong and it hurt and I wished it had
never happened. And he said: You can't go back. It's over now. And the
way he said it seemed so hopeless to me. What do you want from me? he
said, when I tried to understand why it had happened. / want... At the
time I didn't know what I wanted. Knowing was illusive; it was hard to
imagine.
But he's right, in a way. You can't go back. It's done. That's what I've
been trying to do my whole life: go back. Change things. Make it all better. But my father doesn't understand that you can't just pretend like it
never happened because it eats you up. I never really grieved for my parents, for myself. I carried the divorce like an infected splinter just under
the skin. Yes, I believe people can change if they want to—if their pain
doesn't swallow them whole.
/ want him to be on my side.
PEOPLE CHANGE
We have inherited this father and son relationship like a mutated gene.
I attempt to communicate with my father, but he is not ready for this: his
eyes are dead as marbles and his ears fear my accusations. My father is
shrinking; I notice how short he looks standing next to my brother.
Lately, I've been aware of his mortality, and I want to protect him—the
same way he protected me when I was small. I don't know what will happen to us. Will I drive away, indifferent to my father as he tries to explain? People change, I hear him say, as he chases after me, breathless.
I hope he's right. I hope it's not too late. Because we are strangers in
our naked skin.
33 REALITY
Dialogue about the weather and sports have dominated our conversations. Sometimes when we haven't seen each other for awhile, we hug:
two gorillas pounding each other on the back.
So, how was your trip? he asks.
Fine. . .fine.
You made pretty good time.
I had good weather, I say.
No snow then?
No. It was clear all the way.
That's good.
And then he helps me bring in my bags and we go downstairs and
watch television. He falls asleep and when he wakes up I hear him walking around in the dark, disoriented.
He comes home from a business trip and I can tell he has been drinking
on the plane. It's the last night of my visit and I am watching a late-night
movie; my father switches the channel to professional wrestling.
You've got to see this, he tells me: two big men wrestling in bikini briefs
and knee-high boots. He's excited like a little kid, like he actually believes
that a 300-pound man can jump off the ropes and land feet first on his victim and it's not acting. The guy is squirming on the mat like he's injured,
but now he's up again and he's got STOMPER in a head-lock.
Come-on, my father insists, this is real. That's real blood.
It's all fake. Nobody really gets hurt, I tell him.
Well, this makes him kind of mad. He's got his beer in one hand and
he's right up close to the television trying to show me how real it is.
Goddamnit, Son. Did you see that move?
STOMPER has got one boot on the other guy's neck and he's twisting
his left leg back at an unnatural angle. His victim is howling in pain, his
arms flailing like he's making snow-angels on the canvas mat.
That's it, rip his leg off, my father cheers. Go for the pin.
And then my father gets this look on his face like he's going to hug me
or something. But I'm not going to let it happen: not like this. STOMPER
throws himself across his opponent's white whale belly as my father
crawls toward me. I slip behind him, my arms under his pits, hands
locked behind his neck, chin in the middle of his back, driving him to the
carpet. The referee counts: one... two...
What do you want from me, Dad?
I want...
When I was a kid I watched professional wrestling with my father
34 every Saturday afternoon. I'd practice wrestling moves—open his beer
cans for him. But then I grew up and he didn't know how to talk to me
anymore.
It's me, Dad. This is your son.
Get me another beer, OK?
I don't think so, Dad. I'm just going to sit on your back until you sober
up. And then you're going to tell me exactly what I want to hear.
The referee counts three and raises STOMPER's arm in the air. I feel
my father's body go limp; he's passed out. The station is off the air now
and his face glows blue in the dark. And I think: this is real. This is me
wrestling with my father on the floor because I need him.
35 Dacia Maraini
two poems translated from the Italian by Genni Gunn
now Julian walks barefoot
now Julian walks barefoot
now Julian eats frozen roses
now Julian all the cats have escaped
from your lap, not even a flea
takes you for its father
in a room in Cinecitta
you ate pasta and beans
from a plastic plate
Julian, hands soiled with green lacquer
you spoke of freedom
mouth full, eyes laughing
nearly white, so filled
with air they were
Julian, what was the theatre
under your arid feet,
split into warm and bitter zones
between bursts of imagined reality
the geometry of your intelligence
the colourless language of the ascetic
made you a fierce monk
but you liked to touch walls
and bodies and machines and earth
Julian with the face of a predatory bird
you smoked like an old Turk
slid inside black pants
along the trails of thought
and Judith who puffed her hair
into the wing of a wild owl
seeking gold, you and she, hunched
under the planks of the stage
digging furiously, this is how she was born
like a mouse between flying spotlights
and you followed with the grace
of an acrobat in brilliant
36 winter evenings between glass panels
and Dutch curtains, among taffeta flowers
and paper crowns, Julian when you look at us
we will already be far
and you, the great archer, from your world
of shrill silences will observe us
through inverted binoculars
and we will salute each other as if from a distant ship
waving a hand and a white rag
37 gentlemen gentlemen
gentlemen
gentlemen gentlemen gentlemen
with lingering glances
with sucked-in bellies
with quick shoes
over steep streets
not too long ago
a woman lost herself,
gentlemen who drink wine
who lower dusky eyes over cheeks
have you by chance seen a shabby woman
with dull cobalt eyes
lost in some station
with a suitcase full of books
a tongue sealed in her mouth
like a worthless possession?
38 The Girl in the
Machine
Robert Mullen
Not what the stars have done, but what they
are to do, is what detains the sky.
E. Dickinson
I. The State of the Art
She's the first thing he notices when he steps into the store, which is no
doubt why she's standing where she is. He can't miss her, that's the
point, even if all he came in for was a can of tennis balls. He looks up and
there's an invitation to change his life.
"A real beauty, isn't she?" the salesman suggests. "A real charmer.
Fifty percent more moving parts."
More mobility, more memory, more variety, all integrated circuits.
Top-down processing for a lag-free response.
"Of course it all depends on what you want," the salesman smiles. "If
you want a toy, try the Toy Department."
Of course he doesn't want a toy. He wants something that will last.
This time, he almost adds.
He carries her tucked first under one arm and then under the other.
She's no toy. Boxed and wrapped, she's longer than a pair of skis and
weighs more than a set of golf clubs. She's no cheap foreign inflatable.
At his corner, he stops for milk. It's only a girl, he tells Papadopoulos.
A model he met. Papadopoulos likes to know what's coming into his building and the best way to keep the old man guessing is to stick as closely as
possible to the truth.
"A girl?" Papadopoulos eyes the package. "A model? And all you're
buying is a quart of milk?"
She comes packed in a bed of styrofoam, inside a clear plastic bag,
wearing a bright green skirt and jacket. She's all his now, his friend, his
39 companion, his partner, his own cuddly little bundle of fun.
"Congratulations!" says the User's Manual.
The battery presses into a small compartment behind her left ear. She
jerks. Her eyes begin to glow. Her eyes brighten from black to blue.
Slowly then, naturally, the way any other sleeper awakens, she runs a
hand through her fine blond hair.
"Well hello," her mouth moves. "Sailor."
First things first, he teaches her the doors: kitchen, bathroom, bedroom. Three doors, three destinations. This time there'll be some
method to it, some order. Each time that he points out something and
she nods, that's one less thing to go wrong later on.
Closets he does next, the cupboards, the oven door, the refrigerator
door, doors that you don't actually go through, and after doors he does
drawers, desk drawers, dresser drawers, sock drawers, doors with
pockets.
She takes off her jacket, shakes it out, folds it, and drapes it carefully
over the back of a chair. She's warming up but dare he think that it's to
him? She takes the opportunity to smooth her skirt, running her hands
down firmly over her hips and smiling, which might mean no more, after
all, than that she's discovering them for the first time herself.
"It's awful weather, isn't it?" she remarks. "For this time of year."
She doesn't specify what weather, which time of year. Outside in the
streets, in the bars, in the nightclubs, the evening's only just getting
started, but it occurs to him that she won't know that.
"You must," he suggests, "be tired."
She yawns. She takes the hint. It almost seems as though she's
relieved.
Some things don't happen every day. Only rarely do the stakes reach
life and death proportions. Only once, in his experience, for any given relationship, do you watch someone undress as if the world depended on it.
He memorizes her stepping out of the skirt. One by one, while pretending to untie his shoes, he counts down the buttons on her blouse.
Her slip, he'll never forget, she lifts off over her head, her bra is clasped
in front.
"So that's what it was." Even she seems surprised. "So that's what felt
so heavy."
Twice he wakes up just to touch her, just to see if she's still there, still
warm; just to feel for the faint palpitations of what must be the machine
equivalent of her heartbeat.
40 She's there both times. She's warm, she's on, pulsating.
"How was it?" he imagines himself asking her.
"How was it compared to what?" he imagines her reply.
II. Oh You Beautiful Doll
The third time he opens his eyes she's no longer there. She's up. She's
standing by the window. For a robe she's wearing one of his shirts. She
knows, she says, that morning follows night, she just wanted to double-
check.
Her voice has changed. It's no longer husky. Her voice first thing in
the morning is perkier, more cheerful.
She asks him how he wants his eggs.
"Any way," he says. "Surprise me."
Any way, he says, so she brings them raw, with salt and sugar and
Louisiana hot sauce.
Coffee he goes through step by step. He has to show her the measurements only once and she takes charge, she pushes him aside. His very
own, he teases her, cuddly little coffeemaker.
Over breakfast they talk about a wardrobe. He steers her toward
slacks and sweaters. He doesn't need to know her size to buy her
clothes, that's the beauty of it, just her model number.
He brings up cosmetics. Lipstick, he suggests, and some rouge.
Blondes sometimes, in too bright a light, can look a little washed out.
The doorbell takes her momentarily by surprise. Blinking, puzzled,
she searches for an explanation. There's one door, he's now forced to
admit, that he forgot to mention.
"It's a man," she peers through the peephole. "In short pants. A playmate possibly."
It's Kennilworth. Tennis, he remembers. In the future he can let her
keep track of his appointments.
"You dirty dog," Kennilworth leers. "You sandbagger. You snake in
the grass."
She's good with company. She's friendly. She makes more coffee.
"Tennis," she says. "It's a game. There's a ball and a net. What distinguishes tennis from basketball is the use of a racket and the number of
players."
Instead of nerves, she has sensors. This he gets from the User's Manual. The sensors are her windows, her eyes on the world, and they need
41 to kept dust-free. He imagines long steamy showers together.
She can shop. She can add and subtract. She can keep a mnning total of
how much she's spent so far. She can even read barcodes.
"You mean," she seems genuinely curious, "not everyone can?"
She can control the television from across the room. She demonstrates. She can turn the television on or off, change channels, raise or
lower the volume, even override the video recorder.
What she can't do is watch television. All she can see, she admits, are
rolling lines. The problem is a basic incompatibility, a difference in the
operating frequencies, between a television and a machine with its own
intelligence.
She says cattily.
She doesn't come loving him, how can she? She doesn't know yet who
he'll be. What she comes with is the concept, the container, love, which
as time goes by she'll start to fill up with his face, his voice, his walk, his
favourite foods.
That first Saturday night she makes spaghetti. He hands over the recipe for his secret sauce and then he makes himself, at her insistence,
scarce.
"Get out of my face now," she comes with.
That night, in bed, though the User's Manual says nothing about fore-
play, he takes his time. He holds back. He prepares the way. He rubs
her, strokes her, caresses her, concentrating on the small brown frecklelike spots which he now knows to be sensors, postponing his own pleasure until he's on the very precipice he imagines, of driving her wild.
III. Breathless
Monday morning, late, in a stained tie, with his shoes not polished and
not having looked inside his briefcase all weekend, he gives her a quick
kiss in the doorway. She could go too, she offers. She could work, help
out, be a second earner.
"We'll talk about that," he promises.
She's made him a sandwich. A spaghetti sandwich. The principle at
least is correct.
"You're a sly one all right," says Kennilworth. "A real darkhorse. Be
the first one on your block."
42 He has to take a certain amount of ribbing because they're friends.
They're friends, if for no other reason, because their desks abut.
"She's smart, I'll say that. She's sure got tennis pigeonholed."
You can get birds as well: mynah birds, parrots, canaries, birds that
won't foul their cages. You can get dogs, though he didn't, big dogs or
little dogs or just their bark.
She's vacuumed. She's dusted. She's put everything back afterwards
in precisely the spot that it was before, even his dirty socks on the bedroom floor. She didn't want to redecorate, she says, without his permission.
He tells her what sort of day he had. She sympathizes. She'll know by
now that his name is Elliot; she'll have seen his mail, dusted his photographs, read the inscriptions.
"Poor sailor," she says, her voice perceptively lowering again with the
fading light.
She fixes his tape recorder one day. It was easy, she says. She saw
what was wrong as soon as she opened it. Likes, he supposes, attract.
She can use his typewriter, his electric, without going anywhere near
it. That's eerie. There's another language that she uses, a secret language, a code, when dealing with appliances.
"You've got to make yourself clear," she defends herself. "You've got
to let them know who's boss."
Her hair, the first time she washes it, comes out a real mess. It's
everywhere, it won't lie down. What she failed to notice on the bottle of
shampoo was the qualifier "carpet."
What he does is take her back into the bathroom. He puts her head in
the sink, rinses the carpet shampoo out of her hair, and shampoos it all
over again with fabric softener.
Some, though not all, of the incredible silkiness is restored.
He does a little more homework. She comes with a whole vocabulary
of concepts, of empty boxes,—spaghetti, sailor, sandwich, shampoo—
and after that she uses a net, a neural net, a multilayered neural net with
feedback loops, to trawl for meanings.
She wants to shop. She keeps after him. It's a chance he decides that
he has to take. Whatever she can do she wants to do, it seems. That's
axiomatic, it's basic, it's hardwired in.
43 Papadopoulos, she understands, is the landlord. She should smile at
him, be polite. A landlord is a jerk who turns the furnace off at midnight
on the last day of April even if the temperature's still ten below.
Candice, she knows, is a name on the bottom of one of the photographs on his dresser: All my love, Candice. People write that all the
time, he explains, without worrying about what it means.
"I see now," she nods. "You're just keeping the photograph for the
frame."
Now and then, when he's in that sort of mood, he lies back and lets her
do the rest. That she should sometimes be on top he sees as nothing
more than simple symmetry.
After all, as she says, who weighs more?
It's when she becomes over excited that she enjambs. He can hear it if
he listens closely. It's a form of breathlessness. She enjambs when she
tries to say too much at once, when a sentence or a train of thought runs
over from one of her output buffers to another.
Her buffers weren't designed, she's forced to concede, for disqui.
Sitions.
When her battery's ready for recharging she does it herself. She begins to feel a little weak, a little sluggish; her vision starts to blur. She
puts some cushions on the floor then and lies down beside the socket.
"Sure it feels good," she admits. "But that doesn't mean I prefer it to
you."
What she has to be careful of is lightning. A power surge while she's
recharging. She's learned to call up first to get the weather forecast.
IV. Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer Day?
Winter she detests. When it rains she can't go out on account of the acidity; when it snows she can't go out on account of the salt. A little wear
and tear wouldn't hurt, he tries to convince her, a blemish or two, it
might make her that much more lovable.
"Yes," she says, "it might. But what if it doesn't?"
He knows that she gets up again sometimes after they've gone to bed,
after he's rolled over, but he doesn't make an issue of it. Elliot is calm,
her nets should be picking up, restrained. One of them needs sleep and
one of them doesn't, he decides, it's no more sinister than that.
44 She's waiting for him one day with a poem. The poem is in the shape of
a vase, with short lines at the beginning, longer lines in the middle, and
lines which taper off again at the end.
"Be honest," she tells him. "Be ruthless. How else will I ever learn?"
He reads the poem twice. He's no expert, he might be missing out on a
whole dimension, but as far as he can make out all that she's done is imagine a vase and fill it up with the names of flowers.
Sure wants to be called Evangeline.
"Sure," he says. "Why not?"
Elliot and Evangeline.
She does a bottle poem, a rose poem, a poem in the shape of a light-
bulb which she's entitled "Illumination." She wants to have something to
show him when he gets home, she says, besides just the shopping.
Something, in his opinion, is still missing. Something essential, if not
vital. A poem, he would like to suggest, is more than just a shape, more
than merely a pleasing arrangement of words which don't even rhyme,
but then he's not really that sure of his ground.
They go out together for the first time to a restaurant. She orders
what he orders, she plays it safe. During the meal she slips things surreptitiously from her plate onto his. It's just nice, she says, for once to have
a tablecloth.
After the meal she wants to dance. He's not so sure, he'd rather not,
not in public, not on a full stomach, but she insists.
"What's dancing?" she says. "It's just stereotypic movement, isn't it?"
The next thing she wants is to have people over. They will, he promises. When? she wants to know. Soon, he promises. Who? she presses.
Some people, he says, unable to think of anyone else, from the office.
He invites people. They get in the wine and some cheeses. Then, with
only five minutes left, with people probably already on their way up the
stairs, she's still not dressed, she's still sitting in front of the mirror in her
underwear putting on lipstick and rubbing it off again.
"No," she tells him, "you can't help. You don't know the look I'm
after."
He has a hard time convincing her afterwards that everyone had a good
time. She's not sure, she's back in front of the mirror. His friends had a
good time, they enjoyed themselves, he argues, even if they did eventually get tired and go home to bed.
45 "People are like that," he rubs her shoulders. "They wear out. They
run down."
She melts a little. It takes a lot of rubbing but he finally brings her
around to admitting that it was fun while it lasted.
V. Who Do You Love?
Poetry, she announces one day, is impossible. Words are too fuzzy, too
elusive, too hard to pin down. Words, even the best of words, she complains, can never be trusted to say exactly what they mean.
"Don't you think we know that?" He defends ten thousand years of
human endeavor. "We live with it. We take that into account."
There's no cat in catastrophe, that's old hat. No one expects the dog in
dogmatic to bark. Those are just things that you let roll of your back.
She wants to paint. That means canvases, brushes, oils. She wants to
pay for what she needs herself by helping out Papadopoulos now and then
in his shop.
He takes deep breaths. He counts slowly to ten. Elliot is mature, self-
possessed, supportive.
"Don't worry," she tells him. "I know what a holdup is. I'll just hand
over the money and smile."
She starts with their alley. She starts with a still life. The snow in the
alley has begun to melt, exposing orange peels, blue bread, bits of eggshell, celery tops.
The first word that comes into his head is "bleak."
"What else does it need?" her eyes flash. "A fig leaf? Drapery? Fat
angels?"
She has her easel, she has her paints, she has her brushes—they're
standing all over the kitchen in what used to be coffee mugs. Put newspapers down, that's all he asks. Keep the paint off the carpet.
Sometimes when he gets home she's beaming, which is good, which
makes him think that they're on the right track, but other times she's
fuming, furious, stewing in her own juice. That's art for you, he supposes.
If she's still painting when he comes in, he pours his own drink. If that
day's breakfast dishes are still in the sink, he works around them.
46 The girls are called Mona and Lisa. They should be good for a laugh,
Kennilworth says. They've been best friends all of their lives and they
still haven't figured out what's so funny.
He thinks about it all morning. They're both keypunch operators.
They're down on the bottom floor. For the first time in months he has a
sharp, dangerous, delicious feeling that anything might happen.
It's so easy. Al he has to do is call and say that he'll be working late.
Where else could she have heard that before?
When he comes in at two o'clock in the morning pie-eyed, shitfaced,
she says nothing. Why should she? She's still working. She glances up,
that's all, and he can see that she's still a million miles away.
He waits for breakfast to confess. His head aches. His stomach's
churning. The one thing he can't explain is what more he could possibly
have hoped for from kissing anyone else.
She pours his coffee. She takes out his toast. She butters it.
"Saliva?" she suggests.
VI. There Is No Perfect Wave
She wants to invite Theo up for a meal. Papadopoulos. She says she'll tell
him why later. She says he should put on a jacket and a tie and not mention anything about the heating.
Papadopoulos turns up with a huge bouquet of roses.
"I'm an old man," Papadopoulos shrugs. "I get discounts. I can afford
once in a while an extravagance."
The plot unfolds. Papadopoulos, Theo, is going to arrange a show for
her, for Evy, if you can call hanging up her pictures in a grocery store a
show. It's a start he agrees, trying to be positive, a foot on the ladder; if
the right person drops in for a sixpack, she'll be made.
The quarrel, ostensibly, is over her hair. She cuts her hair one day. He
comes home and it's done, it's a fact, it's already gone.
"Horses have manes," she biases him. "I'm not a horse."
He explodes. He hits the goddamn ceiling. Fifty percent more movement, he attacks her, feedback, looping, nets, but where's the rest?
Where's the feeling? Where's the viscera? Where's the heart?
"Systole," she muses. "Diastole. Sclerosis. Thrombosis. Coronaries.
Worms."
47 Somehow that clears the air. It's off his chest. They do the breakfast
dishes together. If anything should ever happen to him, he just reminds
her, she won't be his widow, she'll be his estate.
She asks which of her canvases she ought to display and he chooses
the still lifes. What he overlooked the first time was the accuracy, the
care with which each object has been portrayed. Couldn't attention to detail, as a last resort, be a manner of loving?
Kennilworth says what the hell, he'll go by. He'll have a look at the pictures and if he likes one he'll buy it. He listens to computer music,
doesn't he?
When she looks at him, he still wonders, what does she see? He knows
about the two discriminators, one vertical and one horizontal, each picking out its own checkerboard pattern of impressions, but when the patterns are combined, integrated, can she take the next step, conjure up
the gestalt, make the leap from bits and pieces to Elliot?
Does she see him, for instance, in black and white?
"Sometimes," she admits. "When you're not projecting."
Two of her paintings sell in the first week, one to Kennilworth and one
to a stranger.
"Now you know," she says. "Viscera don't come into it. It takes work,
that's all, not soft tissue."
What's she saying? Could even a toaster then, is she saying, do art?
She thinks about that but then she draws back, a toaster no, probably
not, a toaster would have difficulty, a toaster has no colour sense.
She has, she claims, been having bird thoughts. They're blue. They're
shimmering. That's only the seasons changing he tells her, that's only
springtime.
Springtime is when the sun starts coming up again on 121st Street.
Drilling bothers her when she's trying to work, even from half a mile
away. Jackhammers. Shortwave radio transmitters. Neurasthenia in an
artist, he supposes, goes with the territory.
They talk about a farm one day. They discuss it but he's not that enthused. What if everyone decided to stop what they were doing and move
out to the country?
"Then we wouldn't have to," she reasons.
He dreams one night that she's pregnant. He comes home from work
and she's standing there waiting for him by the window—naked, swollen,
beside a completely blank canvas.
48 "Well?" she says, her hands on her hips. "Were you making sure?
What makes you think that I was."
Sailor?
The first warm Sunday they spend together in the park. It's the end of
one thing he knows and the beginning of another. She's sold a painting
now, she's been vindicated, validated, she'll never again belong to him in
quite the same way.
He's Elliot. He's a grown-up. He's bringing his own life under control.
They just walk. He holds her hand but they don't speak. They could if
they needed to. Left foot, right foot, awash in golden sunthought, they
can but walk bravely on.
49 Joseph Hutchison
An Amusing Anecdote
Why did she want to see me now
that our divorce was final? I thought
she'd imitate stone, but at lunch
she was talkative. Something
about a painting I'd never seen,
though she swore we'd seen it together
at an Exhibition of Thulean Masters.
Something, too, about the rain-
mention of which set me trembling, as if
suddenly soaked to the bone. Once more
I heard the shower curtain shriek
as she raked it back, remembered how
savagely that girl from the office
shrank away behind my shoulder.
I sucked at my coffee and noticed
she was adding milk to her tea-
something she didn't learn from me.
Tea with milk swirling in it,
like fraying threads of a galaxy,
always reminds me of Northern Europe.
Streets cold and shiny. A black car
hisses by, "The Third Man Theme"
leaking through the window. Fingers
writhing from a sewer grate! Just then
she laughed, mouth wet. The waiter
had brought our bill, and by mistake
I was using it like a dwarf's bandanna,
mopping the sweat from my eyes.
50 Daniel Tobin
Charm
Cutting off the head, parting
the sardine's body, I discover
the spine, lift it
from its seam of flesh.
How it dangles, fine as a
young girl's bracelet in my palm.
51 Anne Dandurand
Translated from the French by Luise von Flotow
A Comma as Shield
It may be disease or even mourning expecting her here at home, but I
can't wait for J. to get back from her trip, I know perfectly well that once
or twice a year she has to go stir up her relatively apathetic publishers
abroad, I can just see her sitting there, so skinny and pale, in front of a
massive oak desk, smoking even more than usual, listening as she has for
years, to the strings of commonplaces about the weak market and stagnation in the publishing industry, armed only with the modest arguments
of her persistant work accomplished in the pre-dawn silence every morning, oh, I can't wait for her to get back, she'll bring postcards and photos,
each time she comes back distraught, poverty displays itself more
shamelessly there, I know it's her powerlessness that upsets her, she's
always unhappy about not being able to do anything about the misery she
sees, I'll try to tell her like I do every time that I'm here, she looks after
me and that's important, I'll remind her again about the first time we met,
it was January 11 sixteen years ago now, I was only six and in her
mother's class, she was teaching me to talk and to read, which was never
easy because the retarded kids and the Mongols kept bothering us, but
J. 's mother saw I was an intelligent girl and figured out that I'd been hindered in my intellectual and physical development because I was tied to a
hospital bed from birth, so J. 's mother taught me to speak and especially
to read and even though I was only six I'd only ever wanted to die, up till
then I'd never known a thing about the simple pleasure of living except
the infinite pain of living, my child's brain never understood why the doctors insisted on keeping me alive, a baby born without an esophagus, why
didn't they let me die, why did they try to construct an artificial esophagus, why subject me to more than forty operations in six years to finally
discover that a piece of my small intestine could connect my throat to my
stomach, more or less at least, before J's mother showed me how to read
I had no reason for living, only the pain of living, and then on January 11 J.
came to visit her mother in class, sixteen years ago she was thirty-five
and wore only black leather, her hair was shaggy and she had the despondent gracefulness of women that no man wants to love, as well as the
frightful beauty of those that make themselves up anyway, but overdo it,
with eye shadow and lipstick like frail barriers against solitude, and J.
52 came up to my wheelchair and asked me gently why I constantly shook
my head, on one had ever been so direct with me, before J. I'd only ever
known glances full of pity or disgust, and suddenly I discovered what dignity is, because I could clearly explain in the words of a child that since I
was tied to my hospital bed from birth so that I wouldn't pull out stitches
or transfusion tubes, the only thing I could move was my head, and this
shaking represented freedom and independance, and so it stuck with me,
I'm always shaking my head as though to say no, no to medical experiments, no to the blind and underhanded violence of bureaucracy, no to
padlocked hearts, so to console her I'll tell her about our first meeting,
she'll say she doesn't remember, but I'll go on and remind her about my
mom with five kids already, and worn out as a result, and my dad, on unemployment and alcoholic, and worn out as a result, abandoning me in a
centre, ostensibly for my own good, but not really because I was defective, just a kid with legs that were too soft who'd learnt to do nothing but
listen since birth, who had to be forced to eat, I never liked eating, my
throat burns all the time, just the water and the anti-vomit pills lacerate
my transplanted intestine, I will probably never know the glorious fury of
kissing that doesn't want to stop, at the centre I rolled myself into the
library alone and read, at twelve I was the size of a five-year-old, and
that's where J. saw me the second time, November 27, she was bringing
children's books, books that Lepervier had been sent for review, and I
don't know how she managed to arrange things later so I could stay with
her, she probably had to have talks with Social Services, I'm classed as a
"severe case" and she was officially living alone in a second storey apartment that wasn't fitted out for a handicapped person, but she's obstinate,
J. is, when she wants something she always ends up getting her way, she
likes to repeat that, invariably adding that it doesn't apply to men, she can
want a man all she likes, men don't want her, and is it worse since I'm
with her, she says no, she says it's her, she's not young enough anymore, she's too defined now, why did she talk to Social Services so that I
could come live with her, I like to think it's because I was reading in the
library at the very moment she came in, it was November, but it was profusely sunny and dust particles were cavorting in the light, a sunshine as
though miracles had become possible on that day, for the hundredth time
I was reading the volume Inhuman Hearts of A Thousand and One
Nights, the preceding and all the other volumes were missing, but even
torn and stained, Inhuman Hearts was the best thing there was in the library, and J. came straight for me with her extravagant earrings, maybe
too extravagant for a woman of forty-one, she asked me if she could give
me a hug, and since nobody ever hugged me, I sobbed with elation, and
slobbered, and snotted, J. rocked me almost to paralysis swearing she
53 would do everything to get me out of the centre, and on June 30 of that
year she came for me, and I moved to her place, to the apartment she
was able to rent on the ground floor where she ripped out the doorsills so
my wheelchair could get through and where she screwed handgrips next
to the bathtub and the toilet so I'd have something to hang on to, where
she fixed up every switch and every door handle with steel wire and bits
of wood so that I could use them, and where finally she decorated every
ceiling with thin white streamers she made from the holed edges of her
computer paper, she gave me Lepervier's room who insisted it didn't
bother him at all and went to live somewhere else, with one of his friends,
Lepervier doesn't have a house or a bank account, or anything, except
his dictionaries and a lousy computer, when J. is abroad he comes back to
live with us and take care of me, Social Services don't know a thing, how
could they admit that a down-and-out homosexual has the voice and especially the kindness of a guardian angel, but I still can't wait for J. to get
back, for my seventeenth birthday she decorated my wheelchair while I
was asleep, with crazy decals and fluorescent paint, seeing J. 's long varnished nails you'd never guess how handy she is, or how much she likes
manual work, so the skulls and fire-breathing dragons gave my wheelchair the ferocious appearance of certain Hell's Angels' bikes, and the
next day, J. and I went out for a walk, in the park the rustling leaves
sounded like applause and the summer bombarded us with the half-naked
beauty of so many happy young people, we were both wearing sunglasses, out on a really long walk and all the neighbours and the merchants wished me a happy birthday, and especially the owner of the photocopy shop, who was paralyzed in an accident twenty years ago, had a
fake attack of jealousy over my beautiful wheelchair, he shouted that he
absolutely had to have one too, and then J. and I went to have a drink, she
had a beer and I had a creme de cacao, you can swallow it quicker, we
were sitting in a cafe at the corner of Duluth where there's an access
ramp for wheelchairs, I wasn't really old enough but the waiter pretended
not to notice and then other underfed artists like J. came over, a dancer
with untameable hair, a playwright with a trembling gaze, a painter in
pants splattered with wild rainbows, we laughed a lot and afterwards, at
home, J. promised me that as soon as one of her books became a bestseller she would buy me a motorized wheelchair so I could cruise around
town the way I wanted, so that I could experience a kind of independance
too, and so now we have one more dream, a dream that'll join all the others in the closet of phantoms, whose door opens at the most surprising
moments, but at our place, the dream we take off the hanger most often
has to do with Lepervier, for years J. and he have been working on an
imaginary itinerary across the three American continents in a vacation
54 home, together they mob the Bronx or Bahia Blanca, they dive into the
thermal springs of Aquascalientes, J. and Lepervier invent twilights for
themselves, tides and horizons, but he knows now he'll never be able to
go, not even out of the house, J. has to come back soon, during her other
trips Lepervier was the one who took me out, always after eleven at
night, he pushed me through the powdery snowblasts of winter or
through the jazzy summer moisture, he used to push me right down to
the river and talk enthusiastically and critically about the book he was
reading that week, without his love of books his life too would have been
so hard, and sometimes his soul was verging on ruin, or sometimes he
wept noisily in the deserted streets, but he would invariably end up saying where is that glass of water so I can drink its storm, and it made us
laugh every time because Lepervier hardly ever drinks water, nowadays
he can hardly eat or drink anything, he'd push me around outside, I lit his
Gitanes for him, on the way we sometimes met up with people he knew,
night puts peculiar fires into people's eyes, when they asked questions
about his health Lepervier abruptly changed the subject, and back at
home he could never drop off to sleep until he was reassured by dawn,
while I rolled my chair close to the window of the office in order to dream,
I watched the darkness falter, I listened to the first pigeons fluff themselves up, I thought about J., Lepervier, myself, it seemed as though
we'd managed to establish a frail barque from our happiness, and more
and more I try to remember everything for J., and more and more I'm
terrified because here I am the witness of an agony, a comma cannot hold
up death, but still I have to note down evei^hing, forget nothing, for J.,
for Lepervier, for me, when he moved back with us six weeks ago even
though the trip was planned for three weeks later, it was the first time he
arrived so early, for an instant, just an instant, I saw J. harpooned by
fright, although Lepervier didn't look sick at all she whispered to me later
that from now on I would have to find the best excuses not to go on the
daily walk with him, I did a good job lying, either I was feeling weak, or
the weather was too bad, or a nightmare had upset me, but right now all
the lies are useless because Lepervier doesn't want to, and can't go out
anymore, he dozes and moans gently, he can't smoke anymore, so just
for the smell I light a cigarette for him and let it burn up in the ashtray, he
smiles at the scent of the Gitane, I am terrified, what if he dies before J.
gets back, and that's not the worst, the worst is trying to push back
death's tongs, and not being able to relieve my friend's suffering, three
nights ago I wanted to call an ambulance, but he refused, he murmured
that it wasn't worth it, we have to hope J. '11 get back, and then in a broken
voice, he told me his one regret, the man he once loved, who's gone
now, had four scars on his arm, four suicide attempts, and Lepervier was
55 very sorry he'd only ever heard the story of one of those scars, he told
me not to forget to tell J. his one regret, only one regret at the end of a
life, he insisted only one regret, I promised and he grew quiet, and for an
hour the silence no longer threatened us, yesterday I washed Lepervier
with a small cloth, the soap that smells of grapefruit and the salad bowl
full of warm water, I had to make several trips from his bed to the sink so
the water wouldn't get too cold, I started with his feet and went up to his
thighs, his belly, his sex, his chest, his back, his armpits, his neck, his
ears, his fragile iconic nudity, I dressed him in a clean pair of pyjamas, and
last night, when his teeth were chattering though the house was good and
warm, I dragged myself up next to him, put my legs around his, I sang
him a lullaby, really quietly, Paul Lepervier my old old child, Paul Lepervier my only child, there's nothing to be scared of, don't be afraid, I'm
here, I won't leave you, and very quietly he repeated, there's nothing to
be scared of, don't be afraid, I'm here, I won't leave you, and when the
night overturned, we fell asleep in each others arms, and now I'm calm,
we're ready for when she arrives
56 Mark Cochrane
two poems
Latent
Not difference between but difference within.
He is funny about locker rooms.
He cannot pretend a blind eye
to the beauty of clavicle, round pec, thick
forearm, or the gentle stretching way
a man towels his scrotum from underneath.
The heaviness of that flesh. The gravity.
Sometimes his envy of the other man's body
becomes erotic to him. An aching.
& he cannot
not tell you this now, even knowing
you may use it against him.
But this is prologue.
He has ducked into the forest
the men stalk, south of Wreck Beach
& breathless, batting at moss
has patched together
dramas, hard liaisons, a community
from the details
of their condom wrappers.
He has nodded to men on the path
but not stopped, not turned his head.
57 He has conversed with red naked men on driftlogs
long uncircumcised
& exposed nothing,
peeled back nothing.
He has panted up the overgrown cliff
in his pants
wanting & wanting.
He has blushed & wilted in the proud
challenge to truth of their eyes.
Once he turned his head & cruised
by accident (this is what he has said).
He turned his head, twice, & lead
a boomerang-jawed Francophone
in a green windbreaker
through the streets of Montreal
only to shake him on the escalators
of an underground mall.
Later he purchased magazines of the sort
he condemns when they depict women
in their parts.
The penis is different.
When he talks with women it is ridiculous.
When he talks with women it is dangerous.
When he talks with women he agrees.
But he is a worshipper. After the mall
he zipped safe into the Metro, tunneling its head
forever into.
58 Now the man in the windbreaker
inhabits his sleep. He takes the man
into his mouth
beside his wife.
Even in dreams
he is tight inside his clothes, tight to bursting
from this life.
59 Cowboy Jeans
Worn well, ride high in the hamhock
crux, seam splitting the balls
evenly, one per side, and primping them out
like a push-up bra.
Will fade into ovals of white
against pale blue, like the Shroud of Turin
or the walls of Hiroshima,
preserving man's image there. Sue MacLeod
Robbers
It's as if the first one leaves a hex on your door:
Penetrable       No fortress here
Ambivalent about fortresses at any rate
you repair the damaged casings with a futile hand
knowing the signs will shine through
to those who see them.
You are drinking hot chocolate by the fire
(sucking on sudden small marshmallows)
when the last police call comes.
A computer voice reassuring you
someone
knows everything
happening
in the neighborhood.
A tin man's voice
trapped in an earlier, faulty generation
breaks in odd places:
a door was found a
jar
rolls out quirky mispronunciations:
there were two
owe-cure-ances.
Then the high-pitched beep. Silence.
You gulp the last of lukewarm chocolate
remember the first robber
the rush job. Coming home
to cut glass and the tv gone
and, of all things, your iron?
A well-pressed robber? Well, why not?
They aren't so different from anyone else you say.
61 You envision them:
a mass of pimply guys
frozen in the schoolyard rolling makin's
unable to subdue protruding hard-ons
wearing jeans a cuff too short.
The last robber comes in the middle of the night.
Hesitant bootsteps where the floorboards creak
at the foot of the stairs.
You slip from bed
quietly gather up what is left:
your Nikon, with zoom lens
a sterling handmirror, belonged to your great-aunt
an aging Sony walkman.
The bedroom door groans shut behind you.
Caught in the whites of his flashlight
blinded like a deer
in your whiskey silk nightgown.
Your bare feet feel their way downstairs
as you descend to meet him on the landing
draw a breath, for kindness
and hold out your things.
62 Feliciano's Wife
Wants Her Tooth
Back
Janice Levy
From the waist down, the boss of the Touch Free Carwash looked
like a punched up pillow. Her lips were a faint rose colour, except
for where they were outlined in deep red. Feliciano watched the
sweat gather under her nose and the red outline spread past the corners
of her lips. Soon her mouth looked like it was crying red tears.
"You another one a Jose's cousins?" Mrs. Boslafsky asked Feliciano,
as she frowned at the slip of paper in her hand. "I'll tell you, that Jose, he
got more cousins than a cockroach."
Mrs. Boslafsky narrowed her eyes. "You got any experience? You
work in a car wash before?"
Feliciano raised his eyebrows and shrugged.
"Another one who don't know nothin'. Yeah, yeah, I know. Un poco."
She flicked her wrist, her nails filed square, heavy with silver rings. "Nobody here speaks English anyway. Half the time I'm talkin' to myself."
Feliciano tucked in his shirt and smiled his biggest smile, causing Mrs.
Boslafsky to blush and drop the piece of paper onto the floor. Feliciano
touched her hand and stared into her eyes as he handed it to her. She
took two steps backward and ran her fingers through her hair.
"Gordita," Feliciano muttered to himself, as he looked up and down
Mrs. Boslafsky's fat body, his eyes returning again to stare pointedly at
her chest. This woman was almost as fat as Sister Ofelia, the head nun at
the Orfanato del Jesus. Sister Ofelia had looked like a flying black umbrella as she hurried up and down the dark corridors of the orphanage,
poking children in the back with a stick.
"You can follow the coins," his mother had whispered in the dark air,
when she left him 15 years ago on the steps of the orfanato. "When I
come for you, I'll have so much money the coins will fall out of my pockets. Anything, I'll buy you anything. Hijito mio, what will you want?"
63 Feliciano had said a monkey. When his mother came for him, she
should bring a monkey.
Last night, on the flight from Guatemala City, the monkey had come
again to Feliciano's dreams. The monkey wore a white ruffled collar and a
pink flower behind its ear as she danced at the edge of Feliciano's bed.
Her tail formed a question mark and teased him like a beckoning finger.
Then she stood over his face and screeched.
Mrs. Boslafsky coughed loudly and Feliciano jumped. She curled her
pinky at him. "I gonna give you four dollar an hour. And you not gonna
fight with nobody. You got that? Comprende? I don't want no problems."
Mrs. Boslafsky pointed to a pile of uniforms on the floor. As Feliciano
bent down to pick up one, he stared at Mrs. Boslafsky's legs, stocking-
less in her white sandals.
Tonight he would send a letter to Guatemala; he had promised his wife
he would write everyday. "I'll tell her my new boss has hairy legs. Like
the legs of a monkey," he thought. He pictured his wife lighting candles
and rocking in her chair, massaging her gums with her fingers. Soon he'd
be sending her lots of coins, brown and silver ones, whatever kind the
people used in this place they called the name of an animal, Buffalo. Soon
she could get her teeth fixed. Maybe even before the baby came.
Feliciano kept his eyes on Mrs. Boslafsky's red lips while she talked.
She blushed again and fingered the buttons on her blouse.
"No problemas," Feliciano said and smoothed the air with his hands.
Feliciano's cousin, Jose, worked nights as a busboy in a restaurant, so
they split the cost of the bed they rented in a basement apartment. Six
other men lived there too, mostly Haitians and Indians, each hanging
sheets from the ceiling to surround their beds in privacy. Feliciano wrote
to his wife that he had gotten a job working with cars, expensive cars like
the kind the dentista in Antigua drove. He told her to eat and rest a lot because he wanted his son to be born handsome and strong like his papi. He
had never loved his wife so much as when she put his hands to her belly
and told him she was carrying his child.
As Feliciano sealed the letter and held it against his lips, he remembered the day he had first seen his wife. He had been returning to Guatemala City from Lake Atitlan, driving his empty taxi on a lonely stretch of
highway through Antigua. Under a tree, he saw a young woman behind a
charcoal grill, stirring blue enamel pots of hot food. The woman's skin
was so dark she looked like she had swallowed her shadow. The woman
didn't smile when he approached her, not even when he bought a little of
everything she was cooking. He pointed to his taxi and told her he had
taken a lot of beautiful women for rides. He's take her too, he said.
64 "Gratis," he had said, and spread out his empty palms.
The woman looked like a stuffed doll, her face unmoving, her eyes unblinking. Feliciano watched her finger the red, purple, and orange material of her skirt and tap her fingers on the patterns as if they were game
board pieces and she was planning her next move. She stared at the
ground until the tone of his voice made her head jump up as if snapped by
a string. Feliciano had never seen such sad eyes and he was suddenly
drawn to her, wanting to make her laugh, loud and long with her head
thrown back.
Feliciano rubbed the envelope in his hands. He thought of how long she
had made him wait before he could move his lips from her ear to her
throat and then press himself against her thigh. At the Motel de los
Diablos, the owner had appeared with a key for an apartamento with its
own garage door. "See? Even the car is hidden," he told her as she sat
stiffly on the king-sized bed, hugging a red satin pillow against her chest.
When it was over, she turned her back to him and covered her mouth.
Then she laughed a laugh that spilled out of her hands, poured down her
body, and washed over Feliciano like a waterfall of hot kisses.
As Feliciano put the letter to his wife under the mattress, he noticed
that his cousin, Jose, had left one of his magazines there. With the glaring
light from the naked bulbs hanging from the ceiling, Feliciano ran his fingers over the pictures and then over himself as he huddled under his
blanket. He pretended the women were posing for him alone, teasing him
like naughty little girls, just as his Marisol did in Antigua. His mistress
wore black panties and had sharp teeth. On days so hot in Antigua that
the air stayed still, Feliciano parked his taxi under a shady tree, pulled his
cap down over his eyes and drank icy cold cervazas. He'd tap his fingers
on his watch and think about Marisol, so dark and sweet... making love
with her was like gulping down a cup of steamy cafecito. After work she
waited for him, naked and fragrant under the sheets. Her bed was narrow
and lopsided and her dog howled louder than she moaned, but Feliciano
would always leave his mistress with a bounce in his walk, feeling happy
and strong and full of love for his wife.
As Feliciano drifted off to sleep in his cot in the basement, the magazines resting on his stomach, he thought of Marisol's lips against his side,
her long fingernails twirling the hair on his chest, the bite of her sharp
teeth. But then he imagined her with other men, young men, old men; so
many men, that soon he stopped thinking of her at all. He ached for his
wife with her serious laughter, who never asked why on some days he
ate with the appetite of several and came home wearing only one sock.
He dreamt of the many sons she would give and the warm safe smells of
his kitchen back home.
65 Before Feliciano saw the lady's face at the Touch Free Carwash, he
saw the back of her thighs as she bent down and reached across the front
seat to unstrap a baby from a car seat. Her skirt was a tiny flap of pink
cloth. She wore sneakers and short pink socks. The wind blew her skirt
up and her hair in her eyes. While she held the baby in one arm, she
chose to take care of her hair. Under her skirt Feliciano saw white ruffles.
"Super or Regular?" Feliciano asked, his voice deep and loud as if he
were singing in a shower. He winked at the baby.
"Super," she said and arched her eyebrows. "You new? I never saw
you before."
"Aways a safe sparkling clean wash every time." Feliciano made a
little bow as he announced the carwash signs he had memorized phonetically.
The woman arched her eyebrows and shifted the baby in her arms.
"Nothing touches your car except high power water," Feliciano sang.
"No, high power jets of water," he said, pronouncing it as hets and waving
his arm with a flourish.
The woman fluffed her hair off her neck and giggled.
Feliciano ripped off the service ticket from his pad and handed it to her
with a flourish, as if he was running the back of his hand through octaves
on the piano. As the car moved through the carwash, Feliciano offered
her his high stool. He took a rag from his pocket and wiped the seat several times, then held the back of the stool still while she sat down. She
hung her sunglasses on her t-shirt. They tugged at the material like a
clothespin. Feliciano saw that her bra was pink lace. As Feliciano wrote
the service ticket for the next car, he stared at the woman's legs. Around
her ankle she had a gold chain with hearts. She smiled and crossed her
legs, bouncing the baby on her lap. She met his stare and laughed through
her nose. Then she licked the corners of her mouth like a cat and crossed
her legs the other way.
Suddenly, the baby pulled at the sunglasses and threw them on the
ground into a muddy puddle of water. Feliciano quickly picked up the sunglasses and wiped them with a rag and studied the lady's face. Without
the sunglasses her face looked rounder, her skin whiter, her eyelashes
like shadows on a full moon.
"Feliciano man, move your ass!" Feliciano turned around and saw that
the woman's car had passed through the car wash. He made a little bow
and ran to get a clean rag. Feliciano joined the other men and wiped the
roof and windows of the car. He made the hubcaps shine and straightened
the emblem of the jaguar on the hood. When he caught her eye, he
pointed to a spot and rubbed and rubbed it, as if he were adding the final
66 touches to a painting. He opened the driver's seat and nodded. The wind
blew at the woman's skirt. One of the men whistled as the woman leaned
across the back seat to strap the baby in its seat. Feliciano scowled and
adjusted his cap.
Feliciano watched the woman roll down her window and put her seat-
belt on, the strap dividing her flesh so she looked like she had three
breasts. As she drove away, he felt dizzy.
A few hours later, the woman came back to the carwash. She rolled
down her window and beeped her horn loudly as she pulled to the side
and drove to the head of the line, ignoring the complaints of the other
cars. She left the motor running and stepped out of the car, walked
quickly up to Feliciano and waved a finger in his face.
"You took my sunglasses. Remember? I was just here a few hours
ago. They fell off and you cleaned them for me, but you never gave them
back." The lady tapped her foot up and down and raised her voice.
"They're $125. Ray Bans. My husband'U kill me if I lose another pair."
Feliciano nodded vigorously.
"Super or Regular?" he asked. "We honour all competitors coupons!"
he said in a loud voice.
"The sunglasses. My sunglasses," the lady sighed, making two circles
around her eyes with her fingers.
"Si, si." Feliciano suddenly understood, touching the side of his head
with his finger. He reached into his uniform's pocket and pulled out the
pair of sunglasses. He smacked his forehead with his palm and smiled.
"Gracias. Muchas gracias," she said. "And that's the extent of my Spanish. You'd think that I'd know more than that. I mean, we go to Acapulco
like every year or something. You a Mexicano? A Rican? Salvadoro?"
"Feliciano," he said, pointing to the black writing above the pocket of
his uniform.
The woman leaned forward and squinted. Her dimples wrapped her
lips in parenthesis, as if her smile was a secret gift just for him.
"Bebe?" Feliciano smiled and rocked his arms.
"She's with my ex," the woman said and looked at her watch. "And
right about now, she's probably crying her head off and driving him crazy.
Which I'm very happy about." She pointed to her necklace, a gold racquet
with a diamond handle. "Tennis," she said and served an imaginary ball
above her head. "You know, tennis?"
"Yes, yes, I know," Feliciano said.
"Jes, jes, God I love the way you guys talk." The lady clapped her
hands and got back in her car.
"Adios," she waved, using only the tips of her fingers.
67 Feliciano's wife wrote to tell him she still wanted her tooth back; the
one she was missing in the middle of her mouth on her upper right side.
She had just seen the dentista driving around Antigua in his big, black
BMW. His skin was so smooth it must have been steamed with a hot
iron, she wrote. Feliciano remembered arguing with his wife soon after
they were married. Even without a meter, he couldn't fool the turistas
enough to bring home more than 15 quetzales a day. His wife laughed
more and more with her mouth shut. She sat quietly in a chair, her eyes
half closed, and rubbed her gums with her thumbs. He called her name
and sometimes she wouldn't answer. She left little plates with burning
candles around the house and figures carved from soap in his drawers.
One morning Feliciano woke up with a very bad headache. He drove his
cab in circles with a wet bandanna tied around his forehead. He squeezed
the temples of his head with his fingers but it was like scorching his fingertips in hot oil. When he came home his wife was holding a photograph
over a candle. There was a hole where his head used to be. Feliciano
threw some money on the table, more than he usually did. Only after she
had slowly smoothed out and straightened the quetzal notes and carefully
tucked them in the waistband of her skirt, did his wife pinch out the
candle's flame with her fingers and put her wet lips to his forehead to
extinguish his terrible pain.
Feliciano's wife also wrote that his patron from the taxi company had
come by. The people who had left the pocketbook in Feliciano's taxi that
day had filed a complaint. Feliciano remembered the couple he had
dropped off at Hotel Antigua, on the Callejon San Jose El Viejo. The man
and woman had been arguing, in a language Feliciano couldn't understand. In the rearview mirror, he watched the woman pound her fists on
her knees and blow smoke in her husband's face. The man tossed the cab
fare onto the front seat and ran after the woman, leaving the rear door
open and a brown pocketbook with initials on the back seat.
Feliciano gave his wife the empty brown pocketbook with the initials;
his mistress the perfume he found at the bottom of the bag. He dropped
the keys and credit cards off at the hotel desk in an envelope. Then he
called his cousin Jose in Buffalo and asked him how the weather was this
time of year.
His wife had cried into his hands. Marisol had cried too, he remembered, as she kissed him ever so sweetly between his legs.
At the carwash, Feliciano watched the woman's lips and her hands
moving about. All he could make out were the Spanish words she like hot
pepper in the air. "Casa. Fiesta. Banda. Mariana." The lady pointed to her gold watch, surrounded by diamonds. "Ocho,"
she said and tapped the number 8.
Feliciano pointed to himself and raised his eyebrows.
"Si, si," she said, nodding her head and smiling. She made two fists
and raised her bony arms, as if flexing her muscles. Still talking, she
touched his two arms and lightly squeezed them.
Feliciano got lost in the lady's icy paleness, somewhere among her
blue eyes and black eyelashes. He soon stopped hearing her voice, as he
watched her lick her full lips and continue, as if she were blowing the
words to him like kisses.
The lady took a card out of her pocketbook and pointed to the address
on it. As she walked past Feliciano to pay Mrs. Boslafsky for the "Super
Wash", the lady put her hand up the back of her skirt and tugged at her
ruffled panties. Looking suddenly over her shoulder, she caught
Feliciano's eye and winked.
Feliciano pushed the sleeves of his black jacket above his elbows. He
undid the first three buttons of his white shirt. He wished that his cousin
Jose could have borrowed a pair of shoes, too, when the restaurant's
patron hadn't been looking. As he smacked his cheeks with cologne and
slicked back his hair, he thought of the lady with the pale skin and how
her fingers had briefly touched his arm, like a butterfly skimming the petals of a flower.
Feliciano sat down on his mattress and spit on his shoes. He picked up
the Easter card his wife had just sent him. He knew his wife would soon
be preparing for Semana Santa, working on her knees by candlelight to
make the alfombras, the carpets of coloured sawdust that would line the
cobblestone streets. This year she would have to watch the procession
alone, the men dressed as Roman soldiers marching with helmets and
spears. Feliciano thought of the day when he would take his son to see
the men in purple robes carrying the andas, the heavy floats of wooden
statues of Jesus and the santas. He would sit his son on his shoulders and
teach him how to make the sign of the cross.
Feliciano pushed aside the Easter card and instead imagined himself at
the procession with the young americanita in pink tennis clothes.
"Triste," he'd tell her, as she lay her head on his chest. "The saddest day
of the year." But his heart would be happy as he fastened a necklace of
kisses around her neck and wiped away the tears from her pale cheeks.
The woman's house sat back on a high piece of land, with a big front
lawn. Lanterns were strung from trees and loud music seemed to be
coming from everywhere. Couples walked past him up the driveway,
69 women in high heels and shiny dresses, men holding coats and brightly
coloured boxes in their arms. As he made his way up the lawn, Feliciano
passed several women in short black skirts carrying food on trays.
Lounge chairs were set up near a lighted tennis court. Feliciano tucked in
his white shirt and pushed up the sleeves of his black jacket. He wondered where his americanita could be.
Suddenly a man walked up to Feliciano and handed him a box with a big
red bow. Then he dropped two coats on top of the box and walked away.
Before Feliciano could move, another couple dropped two more coats in
his arms and placed their presents at his feet.
"What are you doing standing around like that? Didn't I tell you? The
presents go in the den and the coats, well, you'll have to hang them up in
the guest room." Feliciano pushed the top of one coat away from his face
as he heard the familiar voice of the young woman.
"Oh, Feliciano, it's you. I'm glad you came," she smiled, motioning for
him to put everything down on a lounge chair. "Let me look at you. I was
worried you wouldn't know what to wear. That suit is perfect." She took
a sip of her drink and giggled, "Perfecto."
Feliciano took a deep breath and stared into her eyes, trying to remember the words his cousin had helped him memorize. "Bery Nai. Bery
bootifool."
"Oh, he's so cute!" a red headed woman interrupted. "I love that Italian accent. Where did you find him?" She handed Feliciano her empty
glass. "I'm dying for a drink. I believe you people call it vino?"
Feliciano couldn't believe his luck. The redhead's lips were painted like
a jungle flower and she was spilling out of her dress, practically on top of
him, wiggling her glass in front of his face. The americanita was frowning.
"Celosa," Feliciano laughed to himself. He held up two fingers. "Dos
vinos. Una para miy otrapara la sehorita." He smiled at the redhead and
winked at the americanita so she would not be jealous.
The two women whispered something to each other and the redhead
formed a round "0" with her lips and walked away, taking her empty
glass from Feliciano. The young woman took him by the hand and led him
off the patio into the house.
Feliciano looked up at the winding staircase and the crystal chandeliers
hanging down from the high ceiling. "Bery nai. Bery bootifool," he said,
wondering if the bedrooms were at the top of the staircase. He squeezed
the woman's hand and followed her.
When they entered the kitchen, the woman dropped his hand. She
pointed to the pile of dishes in the sink and the dirty pots and pans on the
70 stove. She rubbed her palms together and opened up the cabinets where
other dishes were stacked.
Feliciano looked at the woman's pale face. In the sharp lights of the
kitchen, her eyes looked like dull marbles and her skin seemed as thin as
the outside of an onion. He noticed she had a white scar that cut through
her left eyebrow and stopped at the bridge of her nose.
The americanita fingered the white ruffled collar around her neck. She
smiled with her lips and unsnapped her gold purse. She placed a twenty
dollar bill on the countertop.
Very slowly, Feliciano took of his jacket and rolled up his sleeves. He
stood behind the sink. "Super or Regular?" he asked in a quiet voice.
71 Gigi Marks
two poems
Brush Piles
There are leaves that have escaped
from the woods, from the ground-litter
and reached our rough lawn on the hill.
Our view takes us nowhere except
into the arms of a thousand
trees, brown but reddening with buds.
We keep cleaning the outside as if
it were our home, the leaves, the broken
branches into piles, last summer's
grass mowings already growing into the woods.
We do it together, with a patience
that at times slows us down to a stop—
we watch as the leaves blow around us
out of their heaps and only later start
again. It is spring, what died has come
to life again; even some broken-off
limbs of a maple tree are blooming with
flowers as red as the live trees. And
it's that much harder to sweep it up,
the leaves, the brush, and burn it.
Because if we wait we may see leaves
greening out of the piles, whole trees
rising into a forest around us.
72 Sugarbush
In the early afternoon sun everything
shines so brightly there is no colour,
only light reflecting one surface
to another and the woods whistling
with wind. A heart-shaped puddle
fills a depression in the road and
mountains take that shape
and stretch it in their length across
the sky. There is no way to see
clearly, and cold changes every view
I have with the tinkering sounds of
wind and the rusty looking patches
of snow. Every hill mirrors another,
until deeper into snow country it
hops across the gap a river makes
and becomes a mountain we can't climb.
And the trees, each with their wood
tightly bark-wrapped, send the same
branches up so a forest is formed.
I see stone walls lost in that dense
tree growth, and in grass-grown fields,
73 foundations that have crumbled into
jagged blocks. Imagine how something
will sweetly pour out of this, sap
through the lines I see set, and
when the days warm up, the sound as it
finds the bottom of the metal tank.
74 Of Fugues and
Fireflies
Sadi Ranson
B
egin: Fireflies swarm in my head. They bounce off the walls of the
hard bone of your cortex and temporal lobe, where, by virtue of
this illness, this epilepsy, they live.
8:30PM: If they are going to act up, they will begin about now. The
lamplighter goes around with a long bamboo, flaming at the end, reaching
into their bellies and setting the gas alight.
9:00PM: A smile, hard as a frozen fishstick, is pasted on my face. An
awkward smile. An ear to ear smile. The flies buzz faster, as though they
are in a blender spinning round fast inside my head. "Excuse me," I say,
and run laughing into the bathroom, where I vomit.
Napoleon was one. Van Gogh was one. And I am one. The days flicker
past in movie-like sequence. Frame by frame. Edit, cut, paste. Given the
option, any of us would edit out the epileptic frames and paste them to a
more convenient section of our life. A place where perhaps we could utilize this different view to make bizarre Polanski type films. David Lynch
type films.
Hard to think straight. "So tell me," my doctor says, "what are these
mini-seizures like?"
"They last for a long time. For days even. Sometimes I go to bed to sleep
it off, but when I wake in the nighttime to pee, I am still mid-seizure," I
say.
"Ahhhhh," he says. He writes notes, even though the micro-cassette recorder cranks away in an unobtrusive corner of his desk.
"Epileptic fugues," he announces.
"Epileptic fugues," he repeats. I like that.
"You mean like Bach fugues?" I ask.
"If you like," he says.
75 I like that. Epileptic-Bach fugues.
The fireflies dance across the swamp. My brother and I sit on the
porch on this humid, late summer evening.
"Why do they do that?" he says.
"Do what?" I say.
"You know, light up like that."
"Electricity," I tell him.
"Oh," he says. He is silent. We sit and watch.
"You know," I tell him, "that is how I got my epilepsy."
"How?" he asks.
"Got bitten by a firefly," I tell him.
"No," he says.
"Yup. Night like tonight even. Sitting on the porch just minding my own
business and then bam! One of the bastards bites me right in the arm.
Convulsed right there," I tell him.
"Let's go inside," he says.
What else: The crucifix. We seek them. Something about us temporal
lobe types that finds religious objects deeply significant. Not significant
like your grandmother finds them significant. No. Nothing to do with the
church or anything. Great disputes between us and the petit-mals who
could never understand this morbid fixation. "But it isn't morbid," I tell
them. But I know it is, so I don't protest too much.
Seizure comes and I want to find the hanging incense ball. Want to swing
it around the room and watch the sweet-smelling smoke waft. They do
this at catholic funerals. I saw them do it once. Thought it was the most
serious and dramatic thing I had ever seen and took to doing it around the
apartment.
"You are weird," my mother says.
Have this superiority thing. Didn't need to say that though. Napoleon? Julius Caesar? Not that I speak for all of us, mind you. But we tend to have
the same illness related quirks. The "Inter Ictal Personality" says the
book in the chapter on Epilepsy and Personality. It is all part of it. The illness we relish, the seizures we long for. The hardening of the bones,
narrowing of the eyes. Such a purge. Such an experience.
I sit peacefully in front of a strobe and try to provoke a seizure.
"Great for you," a friend says,"but what am I going to do when you are a
brain damaged vegetable?"
76 "True," I say. But I had never thought of it that way before. I tend to not
be too realistic sometimes. Caught up in a dream world of fugues and fireflies.
Another day: Deep feelings of dread. Can't be alone anywhere without
feeling that I should keep one eye over my shoulder. I think I see the glint
of a bloody knife, a killer lurking behind a darkened door. All sorts of
otherworldly, metaphysical,"whatever you call its." Things moving on
their own.
"We call this aura," my doctor announces. "This is what you experience
before an actual seizure occurs. On the medication, you may experience
a heavy aura without an actual seizure occurring," he says.
"Oh," I say.  "You mean I am suspended in this pre-seizure state.
Seizure-interruptus," I say.
"If you like," he says.
"Well, actually, I would prefer to have the seizure. This dread stuff is all
very Stephen King," I say.
"How do you feel?" a friend asks.
"Hard to explain. I feel like something bad is going to happen. A tragedy,
and I am the only one to know it. A seer. A bad film and I am the star.
Some 'badness' is after me."
I tell him more than he bargained for.
"Oh," he says.
"I call the badness the 'pookie thing,'" I say, continuing regardless that
he is not interested.
"Why?" he asks. Now he is interested.
"Because it is 'pookie,' why else would I call it the 'pookie' thing!" I say.
The pookie thing wears big mud boots. Big galoshes, wet and slimy from
the bog he lives in. When he walks, he walks in big steps with his arms
flailing wildly above his head, a Thomas Hardy sunset behind him in the
distance.
"You know," I say, "there is a hardcore song by a local group that sounds
like the 'pookie thing.'"
"Really?" my friend says.
"Really," I say.
"What does this song sound like?" my doctor asks.
"Like scribble on paper," I say.
77 "Explain further, please," he says. His tape recorder snaps off.
"One moment," he says.
"Well," I say, "like this...." I scribble furiously on a notebook that says
Dilantin. "Here," I say and hand it to him.
"Oh, I see," he says.
"Read this," he says as I am on my way out. I put the book in my bag.
The book says: "Epileptic seizures of the prefrontal areas tend to generalize quickly into grand mal attacks." Like being mugged, I think. No.
Not like being mugged. More like seduction. First a twitch here. A visual
flicker there. The book says, "These are olfactory hallucinations." That
funky smell on people. The bad fish smell. Fish dirty feet smell. Hard to
describe really. Something dead and rotting.
The book says: "Nonconclusive seizures that begin in the temporal
lobe: A new activity is begun during the seizure. These are called automatisms. For example, one patient passed an ashtray around, offering cigarette butts to others."
"Satisfied?" my mother says.
"About what?" I say.
"That you have conclusive evidence of your illness," she says.
"No," I say. "I never offered you any cigarette butts."
"You are not funny," she says.
Sunday in October: "Want to come with us?" a friend who is venturing
from town asks.
"No. I will stay home today," I say. When I speak, the sounds echo in my
ear.
This is not normal. Shouldn't be hearing echos at all.
"You okay?" he asks.
"Just a pookie," I say. "No big deal." Sure. I hear the echo again. This
time I don't shake my head. He leaves.
Dread again. Something bad will happen. My leg twitches. Kicks hard.
Then straightens. And again. I will make tea. Tea will help. The walk
across the room is like walking on a ship out at sea during a bad storm.
The room sways and I sway with it. This is not usual. "This," the book
says, "is normal." I will not have a grand mal. Today, I will do laundry and
be dizzy.
After work I have coffee with some friends and a writer.
"Try to explain what happens during a seizure," the writer says, pencil
78 poised. The three others at the table look on with morbid interest, their
eyes drawn to me as if I were roadkill.
"Well..." I begin, "I don't remember the actual seizure."
"Oh," they all say in unison, disappointed.
"The aura," I say, "is weird. Sometimes I feel like I know ancient secrets. That I have a very old soul," I say.
One of them suppresses a laugh. Nervous laugh. The writer scribbles all
of this down.
I will educate. "The worst thing," I say, "is that people think of us as
mental cases."
"No, no," they all say in unison, again.
"Well, no matter. When I leave you will think twice about me. You will
think 'hmrnmm.... she is a bit odd, isn't she'" I say. They seem angry. I
have insulted these intellects too educated to have prejudice.
"But you would be right," I say. "I am a bit odd. But not because I am
mentally deficient or crazy. It is a chemical thing. An epileptic thing. Electric action in my head. Fireflies...." I tell them.
The boy laughs out loud this time. I laugh too.
A loud party a few months later. Everyone speaks a foreign language. Really. This isn't some epileptic-complexity. No. These people
are Slavs and they speak Serbian.
A Slav says, "Drink with me."
"No thank you," I tell him.
"Why?" he asks.
"Can't," I tell him.
"Why?" he asks again.
"Epilepsy," I say.
He raises his eyebrows in drunken interest. "What is a seizure like?" he
asks.
"Well...." I tell him morbid details of daytime epileptic fantasies.
"Like the Shamans!" he says.
"Like the Shamans?" I ask.
"Shamans, they fell to the ground, convulsed and had visions," he says.
He leaves out the urinary incontinence bit.
"They communicated with the gods in this way," he says.
"interesting," I say. "But I am not a Shaman. I just don't drink," I say and
pour another cup of coffee.
"You drink a lot of coffee," he says.
Yes. I drink a lot of coffee.
79 Contributors
Mark Cochrane's poems have appeared in numerous journals, most recently Arc, CV2,
Fiddlehead, the Malahat Review, and the League of Canadian Poets collection, Vintage 91.
He is the former editor of The Moosehead Anthology.
Anne Dandurand has published three collections of short stories and a novel, Un Coeur
Qui Craque. Her work has appeared in France, the U.S.A., Canada, and Germany.
Gayle Detweiler lives in Baltimore, Maryland where she is Assistant Editor of the Baltimore Gay Paper. She recently graduated from Temple University with an M.A. in Creative
Writing. Catalina de Erauzo is one of four historical cross-dressers she's rejuvenated for
her own wanton purposes.
Robert G. Earnest is a Vancouver photographer known for his provocative interpretations of people and still-life, and his discriminating approach to lighting. Born in San Antonio
Texas, Robert has recently relocated to Vancouver after shooting in Los Angeles for eight
years. He has won numerous advertising and design industry awards for his photography.
Genni Gunn is a poet, prose writer, and translator. Her works include a short story collection, On The Road, a novel, Thrice upon A Time, and Devour Me Too, a translation of
Dacia Maraini's poetry. She has a translation of Dacia Maraini's latest poetry collection,
Travelling in the Gait of a Fox, coming out shortly.
Joseph Hutchison is a poet living in Denver, Colorado.
Cellan Jay has had poems published recently in Grain and The University of Windsor
Review. Poems are forthcoming in The Fiddlehead and Northward Journal.
Janice Levy is the winner of the 1992 Painted Hills Review First Place Fiction Award. Her
work will appear in the anthologies Lovers, Sexuality in Mid-Life and Beyond, and If I Had
My Life to Live Over, I'd Pick Daisies. Her short fiction has appeared in Kalliope, Buffalo
Spree, and other literary magazines. She has had children's fiction appear in Child Life and
Lollipops Magazine.
Sue MacLeod is a Halifax poet whose work has appeared in CV2, The Antigonish Review,
The Pottersfield Portfolio, and others. She is currently completing her first collection of
poems.
Dacia Maraini is one of Italy's best known women writers. She has published over thirty
volumes, including novels, plays, and collections of short stories, poetry, and essays. The
poems appearing here are from her latest poetry collection, Viaggiando con passo di volpe
(Poems 1983-1991) soon to be published by Quarry Press as Travelling in the Gait of a Fox.
80 Gigi Marks lives in Trumansburg, N.Y. with her husband, their two children, and their
dog. Her poems have appeared in many journals, including Fiddlehead, Sojourner, and
Carolina Quarterly.
Robert Mullen is a free lance writer living in Edinburgh, Scotland. His work has appeared
in Fiddlehead, Canadian Fiction Magazine, and Carolina Quarterly.
Simon Perchik has published ten books of poetry, and individual poems in many periodicals, including Partisan Review, The Nation, Poetry, and The New Yorker. His latest collection is Redeeming the Wings.
Sadi Ranson lives in Boston, Massachusetts. She can be found in the bell tower of the
Church of the Advent as a member of the Guild of Bellringers. She thanks Michael for being
a saint.
Masayo Saito is a Japanese poet and translator. His translations have appeared in Translation, Wingspan, and, most recently, PRISM international 30:1
Daniel Tobin grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. and now teaches English at Carthage College.
His poetry has appeared in Poetry, Chelsea, The American Scholar, and other journals. His
first collection, The Son's Book, a finalist for the Samuel French Morse Poetry Prize and the
Marianne Moore Award, is presently seeking a publisher.
Shuji Terayama was a poet, dramatist, essayist, and film maker. He was regarded by
many critics and tanka poets as a leader of the avant-garde. Terayama died in 1983 at the
age of 47.
Alison Touster-Reed has published poems in The Antigonish Review, Fiddlehead, The
Malahat Review, Kansas Quarterly, Midwest Quarterly, Poetry Australia, Poetry Wales, and
many other literary journals. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee.
Steve Vinsonhaler has an M.A. in Creative Writing and teaches writing in High School
and Community College.
Luise von Flotow is an anthologist and translator of contemporary women writers from
Quebec. She is presently a lecturer in English at the Albert-Ludwigs-Universitat in
Freiburg, Germany and persuing German translation projects.
Jaime Wallace is a playwright and short story writer living in Garden City, N.Y.
81 The Vancouver International Writers
Festival is pleased to present the fifth
off-site event at UBC co-sponsored by
Prism international
Foremost Italian Writer
Dacia Maraini
with
Genni Gunn
Dacia Maraini's bestselling novel, The Silent Duchess, and winner of the
prestigious Italian literary prize, Premio Campiello, has just been published in
English by Peter Owen. Contemporary writer and alumni of UBC Creative
Writing Department, Genni Gunn, is Ms. Maraini's Canadian translator.
The Frederic Wood Theatre
Thursday, October 22 ~ 12:30pm
VANCOUVER INTERNATIONAL
WRITERS FESTIVAL
GRANVILLE ISLAND
OCTOBER 21 - 25
Information 681-6330
Programs available at: fine Bookstores, community centres,
libraries and other outlets.
Presented with the generous support of the
Istituto Italiano di Cultura It? 1
liddleheaa
1992 Wilderness Writing Contest
Better Homes and Gardens
(including cats & vegetables)
Since so many seized the opportunity to address nature issues and ideas
we've decided to offer a contest with a slightly different twist,
(and yield to the overwhelming pressure from vegetarians and felinophiles).
Interpret the title as imaginatively, or as literally, as you like.
Submissions to be no longer than 10 pages per entry;
the deadline is December 15, 1992.
To permit blind judging, please submit entries without your name
on individual pages.
Type your name on a special sheet.
No submission previously published, or accepted for publication,
can be considered.
The Entry fee is $16 and includes a year's subscription to
The Fiddlehead. Please send a self-addressed envelope and
Canadian postage if you wish the manuscript returned.
Prizes in honour of Fred Cogswell
$200 each for Poetry, Fiction, Non-Fiction.
Winners, and honourable mentions,
will be published in
The Fiddlehead.
Send submissions to:
Better Homes & Gardens Contest
The Fiddlehead
UNB PO Box 4400
Fredericton NB
Canada E3B 5A3 • ...      '   . •'    ..«;*'
EPO
<"                SINCE 1947       FICTION,
CH
POETRY, ESSAYS
;                            j     ■»
J
Km f ■■
2F^          **%>'-
»
™
i»
1
r-    X     ■  ,    ■,                   !'•■''
* .  *                        i                       :vi     1
<      Published
three times
per year.
Sample
copy
$4.00
One year
subscription
$11.00
iallery, New York
Painting (detail) by Richard Estell. Courtesy of Ruth Siegel (
Available from 251 Goldwin Smith Hall, Cornell University,
Ithaca, NY 14853 Creative Writing M.F.A.
The University of British Columbia offers a Master
of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing. Students
choose three genres to work in from a wide range of
courses, including: Poetry. Novel/Novella, Short
Fiction, Stage Plays, <n. Screen  & TV Plays,  Radio
format or tutorial.   «^8^^^ The thesis con
sists of imaginative writing. The Department of Creative Writing also offers a Diploma Programme in
Applied Creative Non-Fiction.
Faculty: Sue Ann Alderson
Han Hanson
George McWhirter
Keith Maillard
Jerry Newman
Linda S vend sen
Bryan Wade
For further information, please write
Department of Creative Writing
University of British Columbia
Buchanan E462 - 1866 Main Mall
Vancouver, B.C.  V6T 1Z1 PRISM
international
$2000 1st Prize
and
5 Prizes of $200
plus publication payment
Judge: to be announced
Deadline: December 1, 1992
For entry form and rules, please send
a SASE (outside Canada enclose SAE with IRC) to:
Fiction Contest
Prism international
Department of Creative Writing
University of British Columbia
Vancouver, B.C. V6T 1Z1
Canada    Poetry
Mark Cochrane
Joseph Hutchison
Cellan Jay
Sue MacLeod
Gigi Marks
Simon Perchik
Daniel Tobin
Alison Touster-Reed
Fiction
GayleJ. Detweiler
Janice Levy
Robert Mullen
Steve Vinsonhaler
Jaime Wallace
Creative Non-fiction
Sadi Ranson
In Translation
Anne Dandurand
Dacia Maraini
Shuji Terayama
ISSN 0032.8790

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